Who was King Tut... really?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from howstuffworks.com.

Katie Lambert: Hello, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sarah Dowdy: And I'm Sarah Dowdy, and I'm going to start off by admitting something. It's really exciting when the National Geographic in my mailbox turns out to be a mummy issue, unless it's ice mummy's, which to be honest, kind of creep me out.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, Sarah's not a big ice mummy fan but, in this case, in our podcast episode for today, we're talking about Egyptian mummy's, specifically King Tut and plus 10 other 18th Dynasty Royals.

Sarah Dowdy: And that National Geographic cover story that I saw was a follow-up on a study published late last winter in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Katie Lambert: JAMA.

Sarah Dowdy: Also known as JAMA. And you probably saw some of the headlines about this. One from National Geographic News, King Tut was Disabled, Malarial and Inbreed DNA Shows.

Katie Lambert: And from Discovery News, King Tut Wore Orthopedic Sandals.

Sarah Dowdy: Which is terribly cutting. All these headlines made me feel really sorry for King Tut. I remember emailing Katie saying how embarrassing for him but there you go.

Katie Lambert: Not that we think orthopedic sandals are embarrassing. We'd like to clarify. But this whole thing made us both think back to our Nefertiti episode and her very obscure end so to give you a little refresher there's this strange murky period of history between the death of Nefertiti's husband and the ascendency of Tut. We don't really know where this boy came from or whose child he is or just what happened in this period of history.

Sarah Dowdy: So, it made us think it's time for a follow-up episode and plus a closer look at the study and a closer look at some more recent news that's contesting one of the points of the study.

Katie Lambert: We like controversy in our history.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, we have lots of controversy and mystery in this episode.

Katie Lambert: So, our story starts with the powerful pharaoh Amenhotep III. He's ruling in the new kingdom during the 18th Dynasty which is about 1390 B.C. and he's no small potatoes, as Sarah put it, he's a big guy. He's got an empire from the Euphrates to the 4th Cataract of the Nile and he reigns for 37 years with his queen, Tiaa.

Sarah Dowdy: He succeeded by their son, Amenhotep IV, and if you listen to that Nefertiti episode, you know what's coming up next, this guy is the heretic king who decides to ditch the Chief God Amun plus all the other Egyptian Gods and worship only one God, Aten, and he changes his name to Akhenaten. He and his wife Nefertiti have six daughters and they act as high priests to this new religion they've created. He eliminates the Amun priest hood, he leaves Thebes. He even changes the way art looks, making less sunshine because Aten is Sun God, they like to have themselves depicted outside but also feminizing the male form, which has lead some people to think maybe there was a reason for that. That's going to be one of our genetic mysteries for later in the episode.

Katie Lambert: And after Akhenaten's death, we have that mystery period featuring a shadowy king, Smenkhkare, and maybe even Nefertiti as a female pharaoh... so whatever happens, 9-year-old Tutankhamun, comes out as king in the end. I'm not mispronouncing it. It's Tutankhamun. So, will this young Tutankhamun keep up this new religion under Aten, no. Within only two years, the boy king returns to the old ways, he changes his name to Tutankhamun and the temples are reopened. They come back to Thebes and his wife, a daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, changes her name as well, but Tut is dead before his 20s and he leaves no living children. He's shuttled away to a comparatively meager tomb. It's not at all what we think of when we think of the grand Egyptian tomb.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, King Tut's tomb is supposed to be filled with the treasures to end all treasures. That's kind of what people initially thought but it's just the simple fact that all of the great pharaoh's tombs have been robbed so long ago that all of their stuff is gone. We're left with King Tut. It looks good to us but it wasn't a terrible lot at the time.

Katie Lambert: Well, and his line of kings is completely wiped out from memory after he's dead. They wanted no memory of that time under Aton at all.

Sarah Dowdy: Even though he's the guy who brings them back to the old religion. Just his association with this heretic God and the heretic king is too much. So, he's essentially erased from memory. His tomb is so obscure, it's so hidden away, it's covered pretty quickly that grave robbers don't really find it and when Howard Carter opens it in 1922, it's barely been touched, it's perhaps ripe with curses and we're left with all this amazing treasure, the amazing golden mask and coffin and the question who is this young boy behind the handsome gold mask.

Katie Lambert: And, for a long time, people thought he might have been struck dead so young by a blow to the head or perhaps a hunting accident, some other -

Sarah Dowdy: The types of things that would kill a 19-year-old.

Katie Lambert: Right, but a 2005 CT scan shows that no, actually, the hole in Tut's head had to do with his embalming and not his death. It also showed that he had a broken leg, but while a CT scan can tell us a lot, it couldn't tell us who he was. DNA can.

Sarah Dowdy: So, this JAMA study looked at the DNA markers of King Tut, 10 mummies's who are likely to be his kin and five unrelated mummy's as control. They were older mummies. So, the scientists were looking at the variable regions of DNA to see what exactly got passed from generation to generation and a match of eight was good enough to establish a blood relation. So, they tested each mummy from at least two spots, trying to avoid contamination, going deep inside the bone and they were doing this because the mummy's could've been contaminated by the ancient Egyptian priest who actually mummified them or even the lab people who are working on them so they had to test them against themselves as well.

Katie Lambert: So, there were four mummies that we knew already. We've got Tut, we've got Amenhotep III, that great 18th Dynasty Pharaoh, and we know the parents of his wife Tiaa, Yuya and Tuyu, so those are the ones that we already had for sure. And then there are lots of mummy's that we don't know. There is a male mummy, KV55, found in the Valley of the Kings in 1907 with a defaced coffin.

Sarah Dowdy: He's terribly decomposed, too.

Katie Lambert: Well, and he's presumed Akhenaten or even Smenkhkare. We also have two female mummies found in 1898 hidden away in a king's tomb and they're called the elder lady and the younger lady. There are also two other female mummies buried in the valley who are presumed to be royalty because of their left arm crossed over their chest and we've also got two female fetuses found in Tut's tomb who are believed to be his daughters. So, who is who?

Sarah Dowdy: All right. So, first we're going to start with who is Tut's dad. Tut had called Amenhotep III his father but that was a vague term. It could mean your ancestor; it could mean your grandfather. It didn't have to necessarily mean your actual father.

Katie Lambert: Well, and wasn't Amenhotep III dead before Tut was born?

Sarah Dowdy: That's what history suggested so other candidates would be Akhenaten or even Smenkhkare, whoever Smenkhkare is which is going to prove to be a little bit of an issue here. So, the results of this millennia old paternity test turn out that so Amenhotep is 99.99 percent sure the father of that mystery mummy, KV55. KV55 is 99.99 percent sure the father of King Tut. So, there we have three generations of mummies who are related to each other but we still don't quite know the identities.

Katie Lambert: Well, KV55 is obviously not Amenhotep -

Sarah Dowdy: Because he's the grandfather.

Katie Lambert: Well, exactly, so could it be Akhenaten, could it be Smenkhkare? Scientists can't say for sure but our money is on Akhenaten since one, we actually know who he is and, two, he would've been the right age to have sired Tut since his CT scan showed signs of middle age ailments. So, based on circumstantial evidence, it makes sense.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, well, and initially, the scientists had thought that that KV55 mummy was a young man, maybe only 25 years old and due to the number of children that Akhenaten had, it couldn't have been him but these middle age ailments prove that he was probably more about 40 years old.

Katie Lambert: So, next we've got to look at Tut's maternal line. If Amenhotep III is Tut's grandfather, was his wife, Queen Tiaa, his grandmother and to figure this one out, our scientists compared the known parents of Queen Tiaa, who are Yuya and Tuyu, to the so-called elder lady who Sarah said is so well preserved it's scary.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, you should look up a picture of her. She looks like this very, very tiny dry person with lots of hair and a strange sort of sentimental side note on that hair, a lock of it had been found in King Tut's tomb in this little series of nesting coffins and it was labeled as the hair of Queen Tiaa, so we had a -

Katie Lambert: That's very sweet.

Sarah Dowdy: It is sweet. We have the suggestion that maybe Queen Tiaa is Tut's grandmother. The DNA results come in, the elder lady is the daughter of Yuya and Tuyu so she is Tiaa and KV55 is her son.

Katie Lambert: The puzzle pieces are coming together.

Sarah Dowdy: Coming together here. So, our next question is who is King Tut's mom?

Katie Lambert: The younger lady who was found with Tiaa, her DNA matches Tut's but here's where that severely inbreed bit from the headlines starts up. The younger lady is also the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiaa so we're missing some grandparents here.

Sarah Dowdy: Do your math here. We've only got two grandparents so King Tut's mom and dad are brother and sister.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, and we don't know this woman's name, the younger lady. We do know though that she's not Nefertiti and Kiya so let's go back a little. Let's assume that Tut's father is Akhenaten. Akhenaten had two very famous wives; Nefertiti was who the subject of our podcast; and Kiya but there's nothing mentioned anywhere about either of them being his sister so we can assume that it is an entirely different woman but because Amenhotep and Tiaa had several daughters, we're just not sure exactly which one it is.

Sarah Dowdy: So, that's four generations figured out and that brings us to Tut's own family. So, one of the fetuses found in his tomb is definitely his daughter, probably the other one as well. And their mother and Tut's wife might be one of the women buried with the crossed arms in the valley. Tut's wife had been described, historically, as Nefertiti and Akhenaten's daughter. And knowing what we know now, this would make her Tut's half sister and even though the babies don't show severe malformations, it's possible that the line was, by this point, too inbreed to bring a living heir into the world.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, which brings us to another issue that came out of this study? This family had some major malformations. Tut especially with his clubfoot and a deformed toe, it's missing a bone, a cleft palette possibly plus he suffered from necrosis, malaria and a broken leg right before he died. So, if you add those things in, things like malaria and a broken leg, it starts to seem like this very sickly pharaoh could be taken down pretty easily.

Sarah Dowdy: Well, he was only 19 when he died, as we mentioned, and he had at least 130 canes in his tomb so that makes you think it probably wasn't for decoration. These weren't regal staphs. He likely needed them to walk, which explains why he's so often shown sitting down in portraits of the time.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, and because this family, you know, possibly because this family is so inbreed, malformations abound in lots of his family members. There's a cleft palette and scoliosis in Akhenaten, a clubfoot in Amenhotep III, scoliosis and clubfeet in the mummy KV21A who is the younger lady, supposed to be Tut's wife. So, we have this pileup of malformations in the family but there isn't actually a genetic disorder or anything that would've made Akhenaten or Tut androgynous. So, that bit is seriously just the style of the art at the time.

Sarah Dowdy: Right, the feminized art from that period that shows men with what look like breasts -

Katie Lambert: Rounded stomachs and hips.

Sarah Dowdy: - and very womanly hips.

Katie Lambert: Yeah.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, that's just apparently what was in style if you were drawing. But, again, we come to our little bit of controversy. In June, a group of German scientists questioned this JAMA Egyptian study and said that Tut's foot bones actually suggest he had sickle cell disease which is something that can lead to the necrosis, the tissue death, and they have called for more studies, which we said that is how one episode breeds multiple follow-ups. There's always something new that we're finding out.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, part two, part three. So, after Tut dies, a queen who is probably his widow, pleads to the hitit king to send her a prince and the dispatched prince never makes it to her and we have this brief period of army control and then finally Egypt passes onto a new pharaoh who is Ramsey the first and then we get this surge of new blood into Egypt. So, it makes us think - I know people request the Habsburg [inaudible] a lot. We've talked about some of the Habsburgs actually and their inbreeding but royal incest, you know, it keeps power in the family but it's a big, big genetic gamble.

Sarah Dowdy: And Tutankhamun is a very good example of that.

Katie Lambert: Yeah.

Sarah Dowdy: And that brings us to listener mail. We got an email from Sarah in San Antonio who said that she one, loved Arrested Development, and two, had picked up on four of our references in our podcasts. For those of you who have not been inducted into the club of people who adore Arrested Development, pick it up. But she said she saw a reference to Maggie Lizer in our Medici Murders episode; Hot Ham Water in Charlie Chaplin; George Michael in the Creation of Adam and Michelangelo; and the Hot Cops in our Art Heist episode. We can think of one more that we did, the always -

Katie Lambert: Always leave a note.

Sarah Dowdy: - leave a note from Broken Hair but if you have any others, feel free to send them to us. Our email is historypodcast@howstuffworks.com. We're also on Twitter at mistinhistory and we have a Facebook fanpage, come and join so you can see what we're up to on a day-to-day basis.

Katie Lambert: And we also have some more information on King Tut if you want to check it out on the website at www.howstuffworks.com. It's called, was there a really curse on King Tut's Tomb? It's a fun one.

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