First Ever DNA Data From Egyptian Mummies Reveals Surprising Clues About Their Ancestry

Posted: May 31 2017, 12:59am CDT | by , Updated: May 31 2017, 1:13am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
First Ever DNA Study of Egyptian Mummies Reveals Surprising Clues about their Ancestry
Credit: bpk/Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, SMB/Sandra Steiss

Ancient Egyptians were found to be most closely related to Middle Easterners

For the first time, researchers have successfully recovered and analyzed DNA from ancient Egyptian mummies. And they have yielded some surprising information about their ancestry.

The first ever genome analysis of ancient Egyptians reveals that they were more closely related to Middle Easterners rather than Central Africans as it was originally assumed.

Egyptian mummies hold a perennial fascination for researchers and scientists. They are considered as a unique source of examining occurance and patterns of diseases as many medical conditions are embedded in their skeleton, teeth and other body parts. These individuals could be much more than that if they contained DNA as well. However, DNA is a rarity in ancient mummies and even if it was extracted from some bodies researchers have raised doubts as to whether it would be reliable.

“The potential preservation of DNA has to be regarded with skepticism,” said Johannes Krause from Max Planck Institute, who is one of the researchers involved in the study. “The hot Egyptian climate, the high humidity levels in many tombs and some of the chemicals used in mummification techniques, contribute to DNA degradation and are thought to make the long-term survival of DNA in Egyptian mummies unlikely.”

For this study, an international team of researchers studied 151 mummified individuals buried at the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq and they were able to extract DNA from 90 mummies. Only three mummies provided detailed nuclear DNA, which is inherited from both parents. All the mummies belonged to approximately1400 BCE to 400 CE, from an era spanning 1300 years of ancient Egyptian history

Researchers took samples of biological material from the bones and teeth of the mummies instead of soft tissues and used the data to test hypotheses drawn from previous studies. The aim of the study was to determine whether ancient populations were affected by foreign conquest and domination during the time period under study and compared their genomes with modern Egyptians. The results were opposite to what they were expecting to find.

“Instead of finding that ancient Egyptians were more African, we actually found them to be almost zero or much less sub-Saharan African than the population that live in Egypt today.” Krause explained.

Modern Egyptians share approximately 8% more ancestry on the nuclear level with Sub-Saharan African populations than with ancient Egyptians. Researchers say that Abusir el-Meleq population remained genetically unaffected by foreign conquest and rule during the studied period. A Sub-Saharan African gene flow into Egypt likely occurred within the last 1,500 years. Possible factors may include increased long-distance trade between Sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt and more interaction down the River Nile.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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