Parents of Tutankhamun?–Royal Mummy DNA Tested
Tutankhamun and the 18th Dynasty
The first steps of the stairs that lead to the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun were discovered on 4th November 1922, and since that momentous day the world has speculated endlessly on the life and death of the previously little-known and shadowy pharaoh. Despite the thousands of objects that were recovered from Tutankhamun’s largely intact tomb and the fact that his mummy was discovered still in its magnificent sarcophagus and nest of golden coffins, surprisingly little is still known about the life of the young king.
Tutankhamun was one of the last pharaohs of the 18th dynasty in Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom. The 18th dynasty was a time of expansion, prosperity and economic stability in Egypt’s history. Much of the Near East and Nubia were once again part of the Egyptian Empire and the dynasty had also produced some outstanding and successful pharaohs, such as Thutmosis III, Amenophis III and the female pharaoh Hatshepsut.
Magnificent monuments and temples such as Karnak, Deir-el Bahri and Luxor Temple had been built and extended and the pharaohs had started to carve resplendent tombs for themselves in a remote valley on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor.
The Reign of Akhenaten
However, by the time of Tutankhamun’s birth the magnificence of the 18th dynasty was beginning to fade and Egypt was beginning to slide into economic decline and the borders of the empire were being harassed by potential invaders. For the infant prince was born during the reign of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, who had overturned the traditional religion of the Egyptians, closed down the temples, turned out the priests and moved his capital away from Thebes to Akhetaten, modern Tell-el-Amarna.
Shortly after becoming pharaoh, Akhenaten had introduced the worship of the Aten, the sun disk, as the only deity that could be worshiped and also placed the Royal Family firmly at the centre of the Aten worship. Isolated in his new capital and seemingly uninterested in military matters, foreign affairs, and the day-to-day running of the country, the prosperity of the country started to crumble.
Birth of Tutankhamun
Akhenaten was the son of the pharaoh Amenophis III and his great royal wife Tiye. He was married to the beautiful queen Nefertiti and they had six daughters who were frequently depicted on the walls of the temples and tombs of Akhetaten along with their parents. It is likely that Tutankhamun, or Tutankhaten as he was called when young, was born in this new city of Akhetaten, but who his parents were has always been hotly debated by Egyptologists.
He was indisputably born into the Egyptian royal family, but who were his mother and father? There was a school of thought that Amenophis III and Akhenaten had shared a long period of co-regency and that Amenophis III and Queen Tiye were his parents , and that Akhenaten was his brother. There is evidence that he was close to Amenophis III and Tiye, as a lock of Tiye’s red hair had been found in a miniature set of coffins in his tomb and in several inscriptions from his reign the young king referred to Amenophis III as his father.
Many other experts believe that Akhenaten was Tutankhamun’s father, but that his mother was not his great royal wife Nefertiti. He was married to one of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s daughters, who was initially called Ankhesenpaaten and, after the return of Egypt to the old gods, was known as Ankhesenamen, and on a limestone block discovered near Akhetaten both Tutankhaten and Ankhesenpaaten were referred to as beloved children of the king.
The Mother of Tutankhamun
So who was thought to be the mother of Tutankhamun? In Ancient Egyptian society, the pharaoh could and did have many wives and concubines, so even if Nefertiti was not his mother, there would have been many other royal women at court who could have given birth to him. One of those whose name has been put forward is a lesser wife of Akhenaten called Kiya.
Not a lot is known about Kiya, whose unusual name has led to the suggestion that she was a princess of Mitanni, but her titles included ‘The Greatly Beloved’ and ‘The Favourite’ and it is the beautiful head and face of Kiya that adorns the exquisitely carved canopic jars that were discovered in the mysterious tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings.
This queen came to prominence in the middle years of Akhenaten’s reign, and her exalted position at court has been explained as having been due to her giving birth to a male heir, but towards the latter years of the Amarna period she appears to have fallen from grace and her monuments were re-inscribed for Akhenaten’s daughters Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten.
DNA Analysis of Amarna Royal Mummies
However, in the last couple of years the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Dr Zahi Hawass have instigated an analysis of the DNA and genetics of a group of royal mummies believed to belong to the Amarna period, with the aim of working out the tangled relationships of the royal family during the latter part of the 18th dynasty and the parentage of Tutankhamun. Four of the mummies whose DNA were analysed were already positively identified, which were the mummies of Tutankhamun himself, Yuya and Thuya the parents of Queen Tiye and that of the pharaoh Amenophis III.
A group of unidentified mummies were also selected for DNA analysis and these included the mummy that had been found in KV55 in the Valley of the Kings that was thought to have been either Akhenaten or Smenkhare, two female mummies who had been found unwrapped in a side chamber of the tomb of Amenophis II and the mummies of two females who had been discovered in KV21, a small, uninscribed tomb in the royal valley.
The DNA analysis of these royal remains has turned up some surprising results. The research has confirmed that one of the female mummies found in the tomb of Amenophis II, nicknamed the ‘Elder Lady’ is that of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenophis III and daughter of Yuya and Thuya. It also showed that the male mummy found in KV55 was her son and the son of Amenophis III, so was most likely to be the mummy of Akhenaten, with a remote chance of it being the mummy of the ephemeral pharaoh called Smenkhare.
The big surprise of the DNA analysis was the revelation of the identity of Tutankhamun’s mother, as it showed that the other unidentified female mummy from Amenophis II’s tomb, known as the ‘Younger Lady’ was the woman who gave birth to him. It also showed that this unnamed royal lady was one of the daughters of Amenophis III and Tiye, and therefore the sister of Akhenaten.
None of the inscriptions so far discovered have ever referred to either Nefertiti or Kiya as being Akhenaten’s sister, or to either of them being a daughter of Amenophis III and Tiye, so it rules them out as being the boy king's mother. So his mother could have been either Sitamen, Isis, Henuttaneb, Nebetah or an unknown daughter of Amenophis III and Tiye, although there are no inscriptions that give us any evidence that Akhenaten ever married one of his sisters. Incestuous marriages were very common within the Egyptian royal family during this period, and indeed both Sitamen and Isis were referred to on inscriptions as the ‘great royal wife’ of their father, and Akhenaten also married two of his daughters.
Secrets of Tutankhamen Revealed
What Caused Tutankhamun's Death?
It is, unfortunately, the prevalence of these incestuous royal marriages that probably contributed to the early death of the boy king. He died at around the age of 19 and the cause of his death has been hotly debated in the past. Historically, there were several theories put forward as to why he died so you that included a blow to the head, an infected broken leg and even murder. But the latest CT scans of Tutankhamun’s mummy have shown that he was a frail individual, who had a club foot and a disease of the bones of his feet.
There were over 130 walking sticks discovered in his tomb and he was often shown as being seated when out hunting, so it seems likely that he had problems with walking and mobility. It is also suspected that he had a partial cleft-palate, another congenital defect that underlines the dangers that marriages between close family members can bring to the health of their offspring and descendants. The DNA evidence also showed that he was also infected with the parasite that causes malaria, and that he had suffered multiple bouts of the most severe form of this diseae, which would have weakened his immune system.
So the wonders of modern science have given us answers to the previously troubling question of Tutankhamun’s parentage; he is most likely the son of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten and one of his sisters. It is to be hoped that new evidence will be uncovered in Egypt that shows us which of the royal princesses was the mother and whether she was one of the wives of the heretic pharaoh. There is still so much to learn about the fascinating Amarna period of ancient Egyptian history, but hopefully, this DNA analysis of the royal mummies has untangled some of the details of the relationships between the members of the royal family and solved some of the mysteries that surrounded them.