Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Egypt Geek Moment

So they finally did a thorough check up not only of Tutankamun, but of 10 of his relatives. Egyptologists and DNA experts did the whole schmegeggy - and what they found is fricking fascinating.

So as an Egypt geek, I'm taking a moment on this blog about writing to say - told ya!

1. For years conspiracy theorists have thrown around the idea that Tut was murdered. I get why - his reign happened during a turbulent time in Egyptian history. His predecessor, Akhenaten, tried to convert the whole country to monotheism. He had a thing for the god Aten, and for making himself the only conduit to that god. It was a brilliant but short-lived power play to undercut the other cults and their powerful priests. After Akhenaten's death, Tut restored Egypt to its traditional polytheistic roots, much to the happiness of the powerful priests of Amun-Ra.

But the evidence now shows for certain that Tut was not murdered. He died of a combination of factors, including malaria in his brain, a genetic disorder that weakened his bones (and gave him a club foot, which explains the canes found in his tomb!) and complications from a broken leg.

I have to say that I knew the evidence for murder was always weak - a fantasy dreamed up by folks who liked a good tale better than facts.

2. Egyptologists were never sure whether Tut was the son of Akhanaten or Akh's dad Amenhotep III. DNA tells us for sure - Tut was the son of Akhenaten and a woman who was Akh's sister or half sister. In fact, two generations of inbreeding probably contributed to Tut's genetic illnesses.

This is big news for Egyptologists, people! At last we know who begat who! Okay, I'll calm down.

3. Most interesting to me, neither Tut, nor Akh, nor Tut's mom, in fact none of the mummies studied showed signs of Marfan's syndrome or gynecomastia.

Why is that important? Because for years Egyptologists have scratched their heads over the strange depictions of Akhenaten and his relatives. Check out Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and some of their daughters in this typical example:

Note the pendulous bellies, the warped skulls, the emphasis on wrinkles in the faces of the adults, the general feminization of all the bodies. This is a huge departure in the depiction of a pharoah. Before and after this time, Egyptian art was remarkably consistent in idealizing pharoahs. For example, check out this statue of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III:

Check out those shoulders and compare them with his son's! It's jock vs. geek, big time.

For hundreds of years, Egyptologists have wondered why this drastic change in style took place. So different was it that some thought that Akhenaten must've had some sort of physical deformity or condition that he (for some reason) insisted on not only depicting on himself, but on his entire family. Marfan's syndrome and gynecomastia fit that bill.

Personally, I always thought the change in style was an attempt to break from the past and put Akhenaten's stamp on everything. The feminization of all the human bodies could be a way to depict the family's fertility.

And now we know that no one in the family had any physical reason to be depicted this way. The Amarna style was very likely a deliberate choice by the pharoah to make a break with the style of the past.

Exciting times in Egyptolgy! Okay, back to writing.


Baley Petersen said...

Very cool! I wonder what facts will be uncovered about our people, hundreds of years from now...

Nina Berry said...

Interesting thought! Will they think we were gadget obsessed and find the bones of our hands wrapped around our Ipods? And what would they make of evidence of nose jobs and silicone breast implants? Those'll be around long after the body they were in is gone...