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Egyptology in ebullition


CAIRO - Experts in Egyptology eagerly await the announcement Wednesday of the results of DNA analysis of the mummy of Tutankhamun, some hoping for a scientific and historical breakthrough, others pointing to the difficulties and limitations of the exercise.

  •    The head of Egyptian antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has promised that these results would reveal the "family secrets" of the famous child pharaoh" who ruled there over 3000 years ago and whose exact parentage remains a mystery. 

       The American archaeologist Raymond Johnson, who works at Luxor, said "anxious to know what will be announced. 

       "In other cases these tests have proved very useful in demonstrating the genetic relationships,"  he says. 

       "I expect a lot, this should help clarify these assumptsions that only make the problem more confusing. It will help out the small Egyptologico-Egyptology world, said for his part Alain Zivie, who heads the French Archaeological Mission of Bubasteion near Cairo. 

       Studies of DNA were crucial to identify the Dauphin of France Louis XVII, son of King Louis XVI who was guillotined in the French Revolution, or to the identification of remains of members of the family of Tsar Nicolas II, killed during the Bolshevik Revolution

       Although the embalmed body of Tutankhamun has been identified and relatively well preserved, some scholars emphasize the hazards of exercise applied to ancient remains of several millennia. 

       A first difficulty is the condition of DNA evidence taken from embalmed bodies by dozens of people with many products, and may be again handled during excavations and looting. 

       "The major problem is to have a reliable DNA for remains as old," said Michel Wuttmann, the French Institute of Oriental Archeology (IFAO) in Cairo. 

       Mummies past under X-rays in the past may also have damaged DNA. The mummy of Ramses II, treated with cobalt bomb to kill the fungi that gnawing, was now a highly degraded DNA. 

       Mr. Wuttmann hoped however that research on Tutankhamun will advance in this technique. "We are delighted to have a reliable instrument and a validated procedure for many other studies, often less dramatic," he says. 

       Very critical, Abdel Halim Nureddin, former head of Egyptian antiquities and professor of archeology at Cairo University, declares on his part "not able to say categorically that DNA testing can give true results on mummies over 3500 years. 

       "DNA tests in archeology are not sufficient. There must be other archaeological evidence that allows us to establish with certainty the genealogy of Tutankhamun," he says. 

       The absence of mummies fully identified on the side of the Pharaoh possible potential fathers and mothers also makes problematic the comparison of some DNA, experts reveal

       Marc Gabolde, a specialist in this period at the University of Montpellier III (southern France), believes that for Tutankhamun, "the problem is related to historical assumptions about his ancestry," and to "uncertainty about the identity of a number of mummies."  

       A majority of historians believe he is the son of Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV). Others believe of the predecessor of Akhenaton, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, or his successor, Smenkhkare. 

       Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaton, is often cited as his mother, as for Kiya, a secondary wife of the same king. Unless it is Maia, regent and mother of the young pharaoh.

    Ennaharonline/ M. O.

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