Mummy's tooth yields DNA

Oct 22, 2009 by Lin Edwards weblog
mummy
A mummy in the British Museum. Image: Wikimedia Commons

(PhysOrg.com) -- A four thousand year old Egyptian mummy's tooth has yielded its DNA to probing scientists.

A team of doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital and scientists from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts first tried unsuccessfully to extract genetic material from a piece of neck skin and a finger, recovered from the mummy's tomb in Deir el-Bersha near Cairo. They next tried to obtain from the pulp of a tooth, and after a delicate three-hour operation successfully extracted the tooth and obtained the genetic material.

Dr. Paul Chapman, a from the Massachusetts General Hospital, who was part of the operating team, was concerned not to disturb the fragile head because of its importance as an . Simply yanking the tooth was not possible, so the doctors approached it via the open neck, inserting a scope fitted with a camera. The first tooth they tried could not be moved, but the second yielded after patient work without damage to the rest of the head.

The tomb, belonging to Governor and Lady Djehutynakht, rulers of the Hermopolis district around 186 miles from Cairo, was first excavated in 1915. Dating from around 2000 BC, the tomb had been disturbed, but the disembodied head, a torso, examples of Egyptian art, other artifacts and scattered mummy wrappings remained.

The DNA should enable the scientists to identify the ancient Egyptian owner's gender, and perhaps learn about its ancestry. The genetic material was deemed so precious that one of the hospital team, Dr. Fabio Nunes, drove the to the New York medical examiner's office himself. The medical examiner's office which was chosen to do the analysis because of its experience with degraded DNA.

Rita E. Freed, from the Museum of Fine Arts, said the 19th century saw the unwrapping of mummies, and the 20th saw the ability to X-ray mummies develop. Now scientists realize you can also examine them for .

The mummy's head and other artifacts are currently on show at The Secrets of Tomb 10: Egypt 2000 BC in the Museum of Fine Arts, which gives visitors an insight into the lives of people in Deir el-Bersha between 2040 to 1640 BC, during the 11th and 12th dynasty.

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

Explore further: Scientists conclude sun-powered boat trip to find Europe's oldest village

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Radiologists attempt to solve mystery of Tut's demise

Nov 27, 2006

Egyptian radiologists who performed the first-ever computed tomography (CT) evaluation of King Tutankhamun's mummy believe they have solved the mystery of how the ancient pharaoh died. The CT images and results of their study ...

Study: King Tut liked red wine best

Oct 27, 2005

A University of Barcelona research team has discovered Egypt's King Tutankhamun was partial to wine, preferring red over white.

Egypt unveils pharaonic 'brain drain' bed

Mar 19, 2009

Egyptian antiquities authorities on Thursday revealed an ancient pharaonic embalming bed unearthed from a mysterious tomb near Luxor used to prepare bodies for mummification more than 3,000 years ago.

International alliance to unlock secrets of Egyptian mummies

May 18, 2005

Two world-renowned teams of experts on Egyptian mummies have joined forces in an international effort to better understand disease and its treatment in ancient Egypt. The University of Manchester's Centre for Biomedical Egy ...

Recommended for you

Oldest representative of a weird arthropod group

Aug 28, 2014

Biologists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have assigned a number of 435-million-year-old fossils to a new genus of predatory arthropods. These animals lived in shallow marine habitats ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RayCherry
not rated yet Oct 23, 2009
Who's your Mummy?