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News reports are coming out today about Tut, malaria, and his family DNA. Here's a quick take based on an early cut of the Discovery documentary and the Journal of the American Medical Association press release.

The bone degeneration in one of Tut's feet is very clear. Genetic evidence of malaria is said to have been found in Tut's mummy and three others. The researchers speculate that bone degeneration and a broken leg plus malaria might have done Tut in. Some of the versions of the story suggest that Tut was "frail," a view that runs counter to our March/April cover story, "Warrior Tut." I suspect that they are overdoing it a bit.

The positive identification of the mummy from tomb KV55 as Akhenaten--thought by many to be Tut's father--is a little puzzling as the mummy's age at death estimated osteologically and dentally is too young. The individual was perhaps just a bit older than 20, while mid-30s is what we'd expect for Akhenaten. It isn't clear to me that identification of KV55 as Smenkhkare, possibly Tut's brother, can be ruled on the DNA results. (I've emailed the project's DNA specialist about this point.)

Somewhat startlingly, the so-called "Younger Lady" mummy from KV35 is said to be Tut'mother. Many believe he was the son of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. This identification was suggested years ago by Marianne Luban in 1999, then controversially was repeated by Joann Fletcher in her book The Search for Nefertiti. Fletcher's work was seen as problematic and many Egyptologists rejected it. Among them was Dr. Zahi Hawass, then secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who labeled the idea "pure fiction." See my review of The Search for Nefertiti for details. I suppose they could say it was Kiya, a prominent secondary queen. Some think Kiya was a foreign princess, but the Tut family tree on the Discovery website here suggests the KV55 and KV35 Younger Lady are blood relations. So...

Less unexpected is the identification of the "Elder Lady" mummy in KV35 as Queen Tiye, Tutankhamun's grandmother. This had long been thought a good possibility.

The Discovery documentary that shows some of this research is set to air Sunday, February 21, at 8 PM (ET/PT) and Monday, February 22, at 8 PM (ET/PT). Hopefully the full paper in JAMA goes into the DNA analysis and handling procedures in depth.

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The Elder Woman from KV35 is thought to be Queen Tiye. The Younger Woman from KV35, now claimed to be Tut's mom

Mark Rose is AIA Online Editorial Director.

See also

  • Warrior Tut: Sculptures from Luxor prove the "Boy King" was the scourge of Egypt's foes

  • Where's Nefertiti?: Joann Fletcher's The Search for Nefertiti makes a big claim

  • TutWatch: After a more than a quarter-century, Tutankhamun returns to the U.S.

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