Scientists will conduct DNA tests on two tiny mummified bodies found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun to determine whether they were the young pharaoh’s offspring, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities said Wednesday.
There has been no archaeological evidence that King Tut, who died around the age of 19 under mysterious circumstances more than 3,000 years ago, left any offspring. But mummies found in his tomb contained the bodies of two females born prematurely between five to seven months gestation who may be his stillborn children, said Zahi Hawass, head of the antiquities authority.
The DNA tests will also seek to establish Tutankhamun’s family lineage, a mystery among many Egyptologists.
“All of these results will be compared to each other, along with those of the mummy of King Tutankhamun,” Hawass said in a statement.
Tutankhamun was one of the last kings of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. Scholars believe that at age 12, he married his half-sister Ankhesenamun but the couple had no surviving children.
Hawass has announced ambitious plans for DNA tests on Egyptian mummies, including all royal mummies and the nearly two dozen unidentified ones stored in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. He has said the tests may show that some royal mummies on display are not who archaeologists thought them to be.
There is some secrecy surrounding Egypt’s DNA testing of mummies. Hawass has long rejected such testing by foreign experts, and only recently allowed it on condition the tests be done exclusively by Egyptians.
He has never disclosed the full outcome of the examinations of the mummy of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s most powerful queen and the only female pharaoh. Nor has he submitted the results for a test by second lab, as it is a common practice. This has raised concerns about the validity of the Egyptian results.
Last year, Egypt announced that archaeologists had identified the mummy of Hatshepsut. But scientists later said they were still analyzing DNA from the bald, 3,500-year-old mummy to try to back up the claim.
Ashraf Selim, a radiologist and member of the Egyptian team, said the tests could take several months. So far, the team has carried out CT scans on the two small mummies and taken samples for DNA tests. Since they were found in the tomb in Luxor as part of the 1922 King Tut discovery, the two mummies have been kept in storage at the Cairo School of Medicine and were never publicly displayed or studied, Selim said.
“We want to find out the truth and facts relevant to the history of these kings,” Selim told The Associated Press.
Abdel-Halim Nour el-Deen, a former head of the antiquities council and a leading Egyptologist, said DNA testing on mummies thousands of years old is very difficult.
“It is doubtful that it could produce a scientific result to determine such important issues such as the lineage of pharaohs,” el-Deen told the AP. El-Deen also criticized the Council for not making public the results of the tests already carried out.