New technologies like advanced DNA analysis and x-ray techniques are continuing to unravel the mysteries of the mummies, recently revealing the other-worldly origins of King Tut's dagger and ancient prosthetic toes. Now, next-generation DNA sequencing has helped solve a mystery that has perplexed scientists for decades – whether a pair of mummies known as the "Two Brothers" were in fact full brothers at all.
Discovered in 1907, the two mummies of elite Egyptian men Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh date back to around 1,800 BCE. Since being shipped to Manchester Museum and unwrapped in 1908, researchers have uncovered conflicting tidbits of evidence relating to a potential fraternal relationship.
On one hand, hieroglyphic inscriptions on their coffins indicated that both Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh were the sons of the same local governor and had a mother of the name Khnum-aa. This was evidence enough for them to become known as the Two Brothers, but when a professional Egyptologist got to studying the skeletons, enough different features were found to suggest they weren't related at all.
Was one adopted? Did one of these rich Egyptians undergo tremendous physiological change by wearing too much heavy bling? Looking for definitive answers, researchers from the University of Manchester extracted DNA from the teeth of the brothers, and then used an advanced sequencing method to analyze the mitochondrial and Y chromosome fractions.
They found that both of the brothers belonged to the mitochondrial haplotype M1a1, a group of genes inherited from only the mother, suggesting that these two mummies shared the same mommy. But variations were found in the sequences of the Y chromosome between the two, suggesting they had different fathers and were most likely half-brothers.
"It was a long and exhausting journey to the results but we are finally here," says Dr Konstantina Drosou, of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester and lead author of the study. "I am very grateful we were able to add a small but very important piece to the big history puzzle and I am sure the brothers would be very proud of us. These moments are what make us believe in ancient DNA."
The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Source: University of Manchester
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