DNA Tests Halted on King Tut's Mummy

C A I R O, Egypt, Dec. 13, 2000 -- Egypt has indefinitely postponed DNA tests designed to throw light on questions that have intrigued archaeologists for years: Who was Tutankhamun’s father, and was he of royal blood?

The head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Gaballah Ali Gaballah, said Tuesday that plans for DNA tests on the mummies of Tutankhamun and his presumed grandfather, Amenhotep III, had been canceled.

“There will be no test now and we have to see if there will be one later,” Gaballah told The Associated Press. He declined to give a reason.

Sabri Abdel-Aziz, the council’s chief archaeologist in southern Egypt, where the tests were to be conducted, said the Japanese experts assigned to the work had not been granted the required security clearance. He did not say why.

DNA Tests Are Controversial

The announcement of the planned tests had sparked a controversy among Egyptian archaeologists. Some said they were an unnecessary risk that might harm the mummies. Others said the results might be used to rewrite Egyptian history.

“I have refused in the past to allow foreign teams to carry out such tests on the bones of the Pyramids builders because there are some people who try to tamper with Egyptian history,” the chief archaeologist of the Giza pyramids, Zahi Hawas, told the Akhbar Al-Yom weekly.

DNA testing of mummies has the potential to answer a number of questions about ancient Egypt — proving information on matters such as family relations, marriage patterns and mixing of ethnic groups. But archaeologists caution that DNA testing has not proved very successful and warn against over-reliance on it.

Gaballah said last month that the tests, aimed at comparing Tutankhamun’s DNA with that of Amenhotep III, were his department’s last resort to end a long-lasting mystery.

Intense Interest in Minor Ruler

Tutankhamun ruled Egypt 3,300 years ago from about the age of 8 to his death at 17. He succeeded Amenhotep IV, better-known as Akhenaten, and official policy at the time said Tutankhamun was related by blood to his predecessor.

Many Egyptologists question whether Akhenaten really did father Tutankhamun, although they widely agree the boy-king had some sort of royal lineage.

The tests were to have been conducted by a team from Japan’s Waseda University and Cairo’s Ein Shams University.

The first test was to be carried out at Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of Kings near the southern town of Luxor, and would have meant closing the tomb for a few hours.

The tomb was discovered virtually intact by Briton Howard Carter in 1922. Its treasures provided invaluable insight into Egyptian ancient history.

The second test would have been on the mummy of Amenhotep III, which is exhibited at the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Amenhotep III is believed to have been Akhenaten’s father.

A general named Horemheb largely ran the country during Tut’s reign. He and other generals were known to claim royal blood.