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Tutankhamun’s baby mummies analyzed

Hazel Heyer, Special to eTN  Aug 07, 2008

In collaboration with the Cairo University ‘s Faculty of Medicine, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) began a scientific project to analyze two mummified fetuses which have been kept in the university since their discovery in Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 on Luxor’s west bank. It is thought that the tiny tots may have been those of the young king’s stillborn children.

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni announced the collaborative project yesterday. According to him, the scientific team, which was headed by Cairo Scan’s Dr. Ashraf Selim and Dr. Yehia Zakaria of the National Research Center, carried out a CT scan on the two fetuses and took samples in order to carry out DNA tests.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, said that the study will identify the linage and the family of King Tutankhamun, particularly his parents. The DNA test and the CT scan may also help to identify the fetuses’ mother – the Egyptians believe must be the queen.

The tiny babies of the pharaoh and his wife were found buried with Tut, each in its own miniature coffin or coffinette. The first baby had died after five months inside her mother’s womb, four months before she should have been born. The other seems to have had a number of things wrong with her and died at birth. Scholars believe that they are the children of the king and his wife Ankhsenamun. If there was a gene for Marfan syndrome in the family, it may have had something to do with why the babies died. “I think the king and queen must have been very sad when they lost their kids,” said Hawass.

Results of these studies will also help identify the mummy of Queen Nefertiti, the wife of the monotheist king Akhenaten, said Hawass. In line with all SCA programs to CT scan all royal mummies for identification, samples from several unknown female mummies found at the Egyptian museum have been taken for DNA testing. Results will be compared with each other, along with those of the mummy of the boy king Tutankhamun, which was CT scanned in 2005.

Hawass also signed a scientific collaboration agreement with Dr. Ahmed Sameh, dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, to establish Egypt’s second ever DNA lab at the faculty. The first one is inside the Egyptian Museum. Such a lab, explained Dr. Hawass, will enable scientists and researchers to carry out scientific comparisons between the results provided from both labs. The forensic section at the faculty will analyze the bones found inside the pyramid builders’ cemetery on the Giza plateau, in order to learn of the diseases that they suffered during their lifetimes and their average ages at death.

King Tut ascended the throne at about age 8 and died mysteriously around 1323 B.C. at 17. Some archaeologists have speculated that he was murdered because a 1968 X-ray found bone fragments in his skull. His tomb, discovered in 1922, was the first intact tomb found by modern archaeologists. Tutankhamun's treasures, including a stunning gold mask which covered the head of his mummy, were removed from the tomb in Luxor's Valley of the Kings by British archaeologist Howard Carter. They are usually on show in the Cairo Museum. His mummified remains were left in the tomb in a stone coffin. Archaeologists last opened the coffin in 1968, when an X-ray revealed a chip of bone in his skull. That fueled speculation that a blow to the head had killed the king, whose high priest and army commander have been singled out as chief suspects.

Death at childbirth is not uncommon in ancient time. Indeed King Tut’s mom died giving birth to him. The evidence lies in KV63.

Tomb KV63 in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor lies five meters away from the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun. Dr. Otto Shaden of the Memphis University mission opened the last sarcophagus out of seven discovered in the area. Hawass believes the sarcophagus is the tomb of Tutankhamun's mother Kiya who died while giving birth to the boy king.

Tutankhamun’s baby mummies analyzed

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