Ancient families, ancient genes

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rocketscientist
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Ancient families, ancient genes

Postby rocketscientist » Tue Apr 06, 2010 7:29 pm

In February 2010 the Egyptian SCA authorized the publication of a paper in the JAMA on the findings of the DNA research done on a number of the 18th dynasty Egyptian royal mummies, the enigmatic Amarna royals. AmenhotepIII and his visionary (or insane) son, Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten being the patriarchs of this clan.

Of course the mainstream media is focused on how this relates to the minor king Tutankhamun, a scion of this line and the last pharaoh of direct 18th dynasty blood. The findings were very interesting, to say the least. The only thing I can read of the actual JAMA paper is an abstract but mainstream media articles abound: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100216163332.htm
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1251731/King-Tutankhamuns-incestuous-family-revealed.html
as well as the obligatory Discovery Channel feature (which of course manages to blithely perpetrate a number of unintentional inaccuracies).

And, not surprisingly, there are a number of detractors of the paper:http://www.kv64.info/2010/02/critique-of-tutankhamun-dna-analysis.html, http://pling.livejournal.com/237092.html, http://www.kv64.info/2010/03/dna-shows-that-kv55-mummy-probably-not.html, http://www.dylanb.me.uk/wp/?p=463

I wish I knew how to interpret a DNA sequencing chart but I'm afraid I don't. I would love to be able to tell if these bloggers are onto something or to be able to evaluate the substance of this paper myself but I can't. Would anyone care to help me dig in? (lol, I'm looking at you Athena)

I am reasonably well read on the subject of the Amarna period of Ancient Egypt. I own (and have read) Cyril Aldred's Akhenaton: King of Egypt, Nicholas Reeves' Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet, Joyce Tyldesley's Nefertiti and so many others I can't even keep track of them all. I consider myself somewhat versed in the archeological evidence from the era, as well as having a good working knowledge of ancient Egyptian history in general, and I'm intrigued but confused by the new DNA tests. Does anyone have any idea what these test results really tell us?

To me this is an important period in history, not because of the supposed beginning of monotheism or the wild theories of those who connect Akhenaten with Moses (yes, I read them), but because for the first time in recorded history a female, Nefertiti, was, perhaps, elevated to the status of co-ruler without having to abandon her femininity. She became the co-ruler of a imperial theocracy and the living embodiment of the divine feminine so that even to this day people are captivated by her story, what sad little we know of it.

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Postby Windwalker » Tue Apr 06, 2010 11:57 pm

Kathryn, I may have access to JAMA. I plan to take a look into this tomorrow and reply at length.

In the meantime, two items: my skimming of the summaries indicates that the detractors may be right; and Hawass is an ambitious publicity hound who's monopolizing everything Egyptological and who kept saying he didn't believe in DNA analysis -- until he came out with two DNA analysis papers on mummies himself (as first author yet, which is unheard of, since the first authorship is reserved for the person who does the hands-on work; Hawass is senior enough that he would be last author, if he was the engine behind the project).

I agree with you that this is fascinating for all kinds of reasons and will have more to say after I've looked at the allele charts.
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Postby rocketscientist » Wed Apr 07, 2010 9:39 am

I look forward to it!

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Postby Windwalker » Wed Apr 07, 2010 1:43 pm

Turns out that Hawass is getting massive amounts of $$ from both Discover Channel and National Geographic for exclusives for such "documentaries" and he has changed his mind several times about mummy identities. He has also refused to allow independent tests for confirmation, citing "fear of contamination".

Here's a link about his flip-flops and logic-vaulting in an earlier identification of a mummy as female pharaoh Hatshepsut. More about the DNA analysis techniques after I see the JAMA article.
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Postby rocketscientist » Wed Apr 07, 2010 7:42 pm

I've watched him flip flop a number of times myself. I have mixed feelings about the man. I don't despise him as some do but he clearly has an agenda that doesn't always line up with what looks like fact. With Egyptology though there is so much conjecture anyway. Very rarely is it possible to say "this is what happened". Unless you're Hawass, he says that a lot. ;)

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Postby Windwalker » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:03 pm

I can understand national pride -- Egypt, like my country, was systematically plundered for archeological booty. However, in his case this is overlaid with personal ambition and professional sloppiness. Like Evans, Hawass skews his data to fit preconceived desired outcomes and denies access to anyone he perceives as a competitor.

I found the JAMA paper -- let me know if you want the PDF. The genetic data in it have serious problems. The samples were not analyzed blindly as they should be; they don't show the results from controls at all; and, as the link I supplied shows, even their cherry-picked data don't support their conclusions without serious shoehorning.

The genetic technique, by the way, is not terribly exotic. Basically, it consists of amplification (with optional sequencing) of small chromosomal regions known to be micro-heterogeneous. To trace paternal lineage we look at the Y chromosome DNA, to trace maternal lineage we look at the mitochondrial DNA. The length and/or sequence of the amplified region identifies the specific local allele, which can be used to assign parentage based on Mendelian-type transmission. Basically if one parent has allele AB and the other CD, kids can have AC, AD, BC or BD. Any other allele is either a spontaneous mutation or a different parent (and it identifies the non-parent from the initial set).
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Postby rocketscientist » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:34 pm

In the case of Hawass, as you said, I can sympathize with his desire to end the plunder of Egypt to feed the museums of wealthier countries but he's become more and more a showman and less and less a scientist.

My fear is that these findings simply pander to the broadcast media's desire to tack answers, any answers, onto the question of the identities of the 18th dynasty mummies.

On the other hand, finally being able to use genetic testing to shed light on some of the burning questions of history in general and 18th dynasty Egypt in particular is very exciting. It's disappointing to learn that the method is sub par, of course, because it throws doubt on everything - again. What I would like to know is what, exactly, have we learned from this analysis?

Simply knowing that all these mummies are indeed related is actually valuable in and of itself. I hope there's more. :p

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Postby rocketscientist » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:38 pm

Oh, and yes, I would like to see the paper. I don't know if I'd be able to make anything of it but it would at least be a frame of reference. Thank you.

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Postby Windwalker » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:42 pm

I think that, in this particular case, we haven't learned anything for certain that we didn't already know until/unless a truly independent analysis is done, with proper mindsets and controls. Genetic testing of this kind, of course, has given us amazing insights even in cases of non-related specimens and species -- from Cavalli-Sforza's analysis of human migration patterns to the divergence of Neanderthals to Ötzi the Iceman, with such bonuses as woolly mammoths thrown in!

Which e-mail address is good for you these days?
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby rocketscientist » Wed Apr 07, 2010 9:04 pm

I sent you a PM.

Genetic testing of this kind, of course, has given us amazing insights even in cases of non-related specimens and species -- from Cavalli-Sforza's analysis of human migration patterns to the divergence of Neanderthals to Ötzi the Iceman

I've read a little about these. Do you have any favorite links about these projects? I would love to learn more.

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Postby bretonlass » Wed Apr 07, 2010 10:18 pm

Slightly off-topic, but since we are talking of ancient history...

I recently purchased the book The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders form the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony (Princeton U. Press), in which he gives his own theory about who the proto-Indoeuropeans really were. My instincts tell me it is a sound book, and I look forward to many interesting discoveries. I simply wanted to know if any of you had had the chance to look at it. If so, did you find his theories worthwhile?

Cheers,

Eloise :)
"First, you see the world in black and white. After a while, you begin to see the shades of gray. And if you but have the courage to try, you then get to see all the colours of the rainbow." My philosophy of life

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Postby Windwalker » Wed Apr 07, 2010 11:28 pm

Kathryn, here are some books and links that I found interesting and informative:

Books (both available from Amazon):

Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, The Great Human Diasporas
Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve

Links -- both Wikipedia, very detailed and with many excellent additional links:

Ötzi, integrated findings
The Neanderthal genome

Eloise, Anthony's book is on my to-read list. I'm waiting for the paperback! The premise that the Indoeuropeans arose near the Caspian and tamed horses early, with decisive outcomes, has long been accepted by most European archaeologists/anthropologists/etc. But I understand that Anthony puts a lot of evidence together in that book.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.


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