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The golden mask of King Tut. Source: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / CC BY 2.0

King Tutankhamun’s Parents Were Brother and Sister

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What does Tutankhamun have in common with Cleopatra, Charles II of Spain, or even Queen Victoria? Besides being royalty in their distinct corners of the world, all of them were a product of inbreeding, and all of them suffered from genetic disorders caused by “keeping it in the family,” a custom which throughout the ages has been especially popular amongst royalty.

The ancient Egyptians were no exception and Cleopatra is a famed example. The Ptolemaic dynasty wanted family members to marry due to their belief in a pure bloodline. The tradition was so far-reaching that while most people have 32 great-great grandparents, Cleopatra had just four. She herself married both of her younger brothers.

Tutankhamun became part of popular consciousness when his opulent hidden tomb ( KV62) was discovered in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings. Even though he is one of the most famous of the Egyptian pharaohs, archaeologists actually knew very little about his family which made up the 18th Dynasty of the Egyptian New Kingdom.

The unpopularity of his father, the heretic Akhenaten, meant that they had been erased after the death of King Tutankhamun. They were not even included on pharaonic lists in subsequent eras. While historians had identified Akhenaten as his father, the identity of his mother had been lost to time.

Model of King Tutankhamun based on facial reconstructions created using CT scans of King Tut’s mummy. (Supreme Council of Antiquities)

Model of King Tutankhamun based on facial reconstructions created using CT scans of King Tut’s mummy. (Supreme Council of Antiquities)

Over 3,000 years later, a 2010 study used cutting-edge DNA technology and CAT scans to identify the familial relationships between 11 mummies, including that of Tutankhamun, known to belong to the 18th Dynasty. Of these, scientists had only positively identified three so far.

The results were astounding. One mummy in tomb KV55 was identified as Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamun. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman dubbed “the Younger Lady” by archaeologists, whose remains were interred in tomb KV35YL, was positively identified as King Tut’s mother. Even more startling was that scientists concluded she was Akhenaten’s sister. This meant that Tutankhamun’s parents were brother and sister.

A product of this incestuous relationship, the young pharaoh suffered from a plethora of inherited health issues, including a clubfoot, kyphoscoliosis, cleft palate, and possibly even sickle cell anemia and compromised immunity. The genetic health effects of inbreeding were unknown during his era and Tutankhamun married his half-sister Ankhesenamun. Archaeologists discovered the remains of two young mummified infants in his tomb, probably their doomed issue. King Tut died at 19, leaving no children.

Top image: The golden mask of King Tut. Source: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / CC BY 2.0

By Cecilia Bogaard

Comments

Facial reconstructions are a joke. Just look at the statuary of Tut since he was a child and progressing to the time of his maturity. Typically, for some reason, these reconstuctions often portray famous historical people as either ugly, ridiculous, or degenerate. To the various opinions that the bust of Nefertiti is a fake idealised creation, refer to the original 1912 photos taken at the site of discovery, and later at the home of Burkhart, which shows the bust as it appears today. Look also at the contemporary portrayals of Nefertiti as she matured – the same person, but aged, with lines and wrinkles.

Anyway, as far as lineage is concerned, I believe the KV35YL is Nefertiti, descended from Thuya, the same great grandmother of Tut, and the grandmother of Akhnaten. Even though Thuya and Yuya were ‘commoners’, they were the parents of persons of royal lineage, i.e. Kiya and her descendants, and warranted a tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

 

IronicLyricist's picture

Of course this continueed even after.. considering their obsession with a pure bloodline.. most any royal marriage, at least european would be inbred. The half sister was good enough to prevent a fully 4th vibration being with 24 chromosomes from having issues.. but we arent they. #royalproblems

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