Mummy Identification Still Uncertain Science

King Tut is the only 18th Dynasty pharaoh whose mummy has been identified with certainty, says a new analysis.

King Tutankhamun is the only 18th Dynasty pharaoh whose mummy has been identified with certainty, says a new study into some of the most famous ancient Egyptian royal mummies.

King Tut's great-grandparents, Yuya and Thuya, have also been identified beyond doubt, while different opinions appear to circulate about the identity of almost all the other mummies.

Published in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, the research reviews methods and pitfalls used to name the mummies of the famous 18th Dynasty, which includes royals such as Amenhotep III, Akhenaton, Nefertiti and Tutankhamun.

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The meta-analysis examines all the procedures used to identify these mummies, such as anthropological examination, genetics, facial resemblance, historic inscriptions, and name tags found directly on the bandages.

"Overall, agreement emerges only for the identities of Tutankhamun and his great-grandparents Yuya and Thuya. Such results demonstrate the difficulties in identifying ancient Egyptian royal mummies," Frank Rühli, director of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, told Discovery News.

Rühli and colleagues Michael Habicht and Abigail Bouwman focused their investigation on the mummies of the so-called Thutmoside dynasty, from Thutmosis II to Tutankhamun.

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Some of these mummies have been recently investigated using molecular genetics in the so-called "Tutankhamun Family project," carried out by a team recruited by Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former head of antiquities.

The scientists tested 11 royal mummies suspected of being related to King Tut, while five other royal individuals dating to the early New Kingdom (1550-1479 B.C.) were chosen as a control group.

To create a genetic fingerprint for each mummy, the researchers led by Hawass used eight sets of genetic markers. Shared markers helped produce a five-generation pedigree of Tutankhamun's immediate lineage.

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Yuya and Thuya were recognized as King Tut's great-grandparents. Pharaoh Amenhotep III and the mummy known as the Elder Lady (KV35EL) were found to be his grandparents, while the skeleton known as KV55 -- most likely Akhenaton -- and KV35YL, the Younger Lady, were identified as siblings, as well as King Tut's parents.

"Our review basically supports the DNA results," Rühli said.

The researchers noted however that the genetic tests would have not been enough in UK and US courts today to claim parentage.

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In UK courts at least 10 matches are required, while in North America 13 matches are necessary to claim relationship. The Tutankhamun Family project gave 8 matches.

"It should be said that working with modern genetic material is one thing, analyzing some 3,500 year-old DNA a totally different one. Obviously, it is much more challenging," Rühli said.

After reviewing all the possible methods used to name the mummies, Rühli and colleagues proposed their own identification.

They agreed with the genetic tests on the identifications of the mummies of Thutmosis II, Amenhotep III, Yuya, Thuya, Queen Tjye, Akhenaton and Tutankhamun.

The study differs from the genetic research for one identification, that of the mummy CG 61072 or KV35YL, the Younger Lady.

Kidney Spotted For First Time in Egyptian Mummy While the body remains unidentified according to DNA tests, Rühli and colleagues present her as Queen Nefertiti.

"We can't be fully certain of her identity, however inscriptional evidence and facial resemblance with Tutankhamun as seen in CT scans, strongly suggests the mummy belongs to Nefertiti," Rühli said.

"Nefertiti is labelled in inscriptions to be Tutankhamun's mother and indeed the mummy known as the Younger Lady is genetically suggested to be King Tut's mother," he added.

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If the identification is correct, the theory that Nefertiti is the occupant of a secret crypt behind the western wall of King Tut's tomb would be automatically ruled out.

In this case, candidates would be other elusive 18th Dynasty mummies, such as the enigmatic pharaoh Smenkhkare, Queen Kiya, the mysterious secondary wife of Akhenaton, and Queen Meritaton, the eldest daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti who might have acted as a regent for her underage brother Tutankhamun.

"But it is also possible that no mummy and artifacts at all will be found," the researchers said.

The King Tut mummies is one of the few to be positively identified.

Discovered in 1881 in the Deir el-Bahri Cache above the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and unwrapped by Gaston Maspero in 1886, this mummy, known as CG 61066, was badly damaged by grave robbers in antiquity. The left arm was broken off at the shoulder, the right arm cut off at the elbow and the right leg severed from the body. The mummy’s name remains uncertain. It was identified as that of King Thutmosis II (reign c. 1493–1479BC) thanks to a wrongly spelled label. However, the inscription appear to have overwritten an earlier sign referring to Thutmosis I. This could indicate the inscription had been changed from Thutmosis I to Thutmosis II, suggesting that the royal mummy CG 61066 is that of Thutmosis I rather than his likely son Thutmosis II.

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Badly damaged by ancient robbers, this mummy had fallen into pieces, the well preserved head broken off, all four limbs detached and the feet severed. The mummy has been identified as that of Thutmosis III, the sixth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty (reign about 1479–1425 BC) and shares a striking resemblance with Thutmosis II (mummy CG 61066), his purported father. The identification is based on the fact that when it was unearthed, the mummy was lying in a coffin bearing in its interior traces of inscriptions made for Thutmosis III. A linen shroud with a funerary book which certainly belonged to Thutmosis III, was possibly placed there by the embalmers.

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French excavator Victor Loret found the mummy CG61069 in 1898 in the KV35 tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The mummy was lying in a wooden coffin placed into a stone sarcophagus with inscriptions naming Amenhotep II, the seventh pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt, who ruled between 1428 and 1397BC. A simple label on the mummy's shroud presented the identity of Amenhotep II. Some doubt however remains. The coffin did not give a name and was too large for the mummy. Moreover, the faded hieratic ink inscription could have been easily misread. "With reservations the mummy CG 61069 should be considered as Amenhotep II until proven otherwise," Ruhli and colleagues concluded.

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Found in 1898 in the KV 35 tomb, this damaged mummy -- both feet are broken off and the right leg was ripped off at the knee joint -- shows the face of an extremely emaciated man. The body has been identified as Thutmosis IV, the 8th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who ruled between 1397 and 1387 BC, thanks to inscriptions on the chest and coffin correctly spelled and clearly visible. According to the researchers, the identification should be considered reliable.

When it was unwrapped in 1905, this mummy revealed a body in rather bad condition. The head was broken off, most of the soft tissue from the face gone, the right leg was cut away from the trunk, and part of the foot missing. The embalmers taped the mummy together in the attempt to restore a lifelike appearance. Bird bones, a human big toe, and parts of an arm were found inside the body cavity. The genetic profiling determined the mummy was the consort of Queen Tjye and as the genetic father of the mummy from tomb KV 55, thus identifying the body as Amenhotep III.

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The identity of these exceptionally well-preserved mummies is certain, since the coffins and funerary objects bear their names and status. Genetic testing recognized Yuya and Thuya as King Tut's great-grandparents.

This nameless and naked mummy was found in 1898 in the cachette KV 35 together with the so-called Younger Lady and a teenage boy. The regal quality of mummification and her bent arm recognized her as a queen; speculations were made to identify her as of Tjye, Nefertiti, or Hatshepsut. In view of the genetic test, where she was proved to be the daughter of Yuya and Thuya, the identification as Tjye, wife of King Amenhotep III, appears the most realistic one.

This body, consisting of a completely disarticulated skeleton with few missing part and a damaged skull, was identified as Akhenaton although some argued he could have been the elusive pharaoh Smenkhkare. In the Tutankhamun Family Project he was proved with molecular genetics to be a direct descendant of the "Elder Lady" (Queen Tiye) and mummy CG 61074, commonly regarded as "Amenhotep III," and this would indicate that he was the heretic king Akhenaton. The KV 55 mummy was also determined to be the genetic father of Tutankhamun. Inscriptions support the genetics. Not only the body found in KV55 bore golden bands with the name Akhenaton, but inscriptions from Tell el-Amarna, the city of the heretic king, describe King Tut as the son of Akhenaton.

Found by Victor Loret in 1898 in tomb KV35, the mummy was considered to be an unknown royal family member of Amenhotep II, because she was found in his burial. In 1999, Marianne Luban suggested the mummy might be Queen Nefertiti, based on her profile resemblance with the famous Berlin bust. In 2004 Egyptologist Joann Fletcher also proposed the mummy is Nefertiti, relying her theory on portable x-ray, forensic face reconstruction and resemblance between art and mummy. Her identification raised much controversy. The DNA analysis revealed the mummy is the mother of Tutankhamun, but did not offer an identity. In their meta-analysis, Rühli and colleagues also present her as Queen Nefertiti. "We can't be fully certain of her identity, however inscriptional evidence and facial resemblance with Tutankhamun as seen in CT scans, strongly suggests the mummy belongs to Nefertiti," Rühli said. "Nefertiti is labelled in inscriptions to be Tutankhamun's mother and indeed the mummy known as the Younger Lady is genetically suggested to be King Tut's mother," he added.