Deciphering the mystery of the ancient Egyptian race

Deciphering the mystery of the ancient Egyptian race

It is thought that the DNA of ancient Egyptian mummies could not be sequenced. But an international team of researchers, using unconventional methods, has overcome the barriers to do just that.

Egyptologists, writers, scholars and others, have debated the race of the  ancient Egyptians since at least the 1970s. Today, some believe they were sub-African. Sahara, this is argued from the existence of a number of African empires and kingdoms that have grown to their peak in the past.

It is thought that the problem is that the DNA of the mummy cannot be sequenced. But an international team of researchers, using unconventional methods, overcomes inherent barriers to doing so. They found that the ancient Egyptians were most closely related to the peoples of the Near East, especially from the Levant – present-day Eastern Mediterranean includes the countries of Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan , Syria and Lebanon. The mummies used in the study date back to the New Kingdom and later periods, when Egypt was under Roman rule.

Deciphering the mystery of the ancient Egyptian race - Photo 1.

Modern Egyptians share 8% of their genome with Central Africans, far more than the ancient Egyptians, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications. The proliferation of sub-Saharan genes has only occurred in the last 1,500 years. This could be due to the trans-Saharan slave trade or from frequent, long-distance trade between the two regions. The researchers claim that improved mobility on the Nile during this period increased trade between ancient Egypt and inland Africa.

Egypt throughout antiquity was conquered many times, including by Alexander the Great, by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and more. The researchers wanted to know if these continuous waves of invasion would cause any major genetic changes in the population over time.

Deciphering the mystery of the ancient Egyptian race - Photo 2.
“The genetics of the Abusir el-Meleq community did not undergo any major changes over the 1,300-year period we studied,” said team leader Wolfgang Haak at the Max Planck Institute in Germany in a press release. , which suggests that the population remained relatively stable genetically and unaffected by foreign conquest and rule”.

The research was led by paleontologist Johannes Krause, also of the Max Planck Institute. Historically, there was a problem in finding intact DNA from ancient Egyptian mummies. The study notes: “The hot Egyptian climate, high humidity in many tombs, and certain chemicals used in embalming techniques contribute to DNA degradation and are thought to be responsible for the DNA in mummies. Egypt doesn’t last long.”

It has also been suggested that, even if genetic material is recovered, it may not be reliable. Despite this, Krause and his colleagues were able to introduce powerful DNA sequencing and verification techniques and complete the first genomic test on an ancient Egyptian mummy.


Deciphering the mystery of the ancient Egyptian race - Photo 4.

Abusir el-Meleq, an archaeological site located along the Nile, 70 miles (115 km) south of Cairo, contains mummies that display aspects of dedication to the cult of Osiris, the skin god. green of the afterlife.

First, mitochondrial genomes from 90 mummies were sampled and analyzed. From these, Krause and colleagues found that they could derive entire genomes from just three of the mummies. For this study, the scientists took samples of teeth, bones and soft tissues. Teeth and bones provide the most DNA because they have been protected by soft tissues through the mummification process.

They begin their work by disinfecting the room. They then placed the samples under UV radiation for an hour to sterilize. From there, DNA sequencing can be performed.

The scientists also gathered data on the history of Egypt and the archaeological data of northern Africa, to give their discovery some context. They want to know what changes have happened over time. To find out, they compared the mummy’s genome with the genomes of 100 modern Egyptians and 125 Ethiopians.

Deciphering the mystery of the ancient Egyptian race - Photo 5.

The oldest known mummy is from the New Kingdom period, in 1,388 BC, when Egypt was at the height of its power and glory. The youngest is from 426 AD, when the country was ruled from Rome. The ability to collect genomic data of the ancient Egyptians is a remarkable achievement, opening new research directions.

The scientific report also indicates that “all of our genetic data were obtained from a single site in Central Egypt and may not be representative of all of Ancient Egypt”. “In southern Egypt, the genetic makeup of the people there may have been different, closer to the interior of the African continent.”

Future researchers want to determine exactly when sub-Saharan Africa genes entered the ancient Egyptian genome and why. They will also want to know where the ancient Egyptians came from. To do so, they would have to identify older DNA that, as Krause put it, “goes back further, to prehistoric times.”

Using high-throughput DNA sequencing and advanced validation techniques, the researchers demonstrated that they could reliably obtain DNA from mummies, despite the harsh climate and embalming techniques. corpses can damage DNA.

Further experimentation could contribute to our understanding of the ancient Egyptians and perhaps people from elsewhere, helping to fill in the gaps in the general memory of mankind.


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