When Mummies Speak

Egypt is an ideal region to study historical populations, given its proximity to Africa, Asia and Europe.  Unfortunately, DNA in Egyptian mummies gets destroyed by the region’s constant heat.  Genetic material has been further damaged by the chemicals used by Egyptian embalmers.  As a result, scientists have been unable to extract DNA from mummified remains.

Until now.

An international team of scientists examined the genetic material of 151 Egyptian mummies from 1388 B.C. to 426 A.D.  Using high-throughput DNA sequencing methods and other modern technologies, they have developed the first reliable data set obtained from ancient Egyptians.

The researchers used Agilent Bioanalyzer DNA 100 chips to quantify the DNA libraries used to enrich the human mitochondrial DNA.

The scientists discovered a 1,300-year genetic continuity within the population, despite repeated conquests by Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Assyrians.  The scientists believe populations tended to marry within their own ethnic groups, especially under Roman rule.

What’s more, the scientists did not find much sub-Saharan African ancestry.  Instead, ancient Egyptians shared more ancestry with Near Easterners than with present-day Egyptians.

“This analysis establishes ancient Egyptian mummies as a genetic source to study ancient human history,” the authors write.

“The methodology presented here opens up promising avenues for future genetic research and can greatly contribute towards a more accurate and refined understanding of Egypt’s population history.”


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