Peeling Off King Tut's Ancient Genes
Dem bones, dem bones just lie around, but the whole world wants to know everything about King Tut, even what's deep inside his bone marrow.
Ever since the tomb of King Tutankhamun was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, this obscure pharaoh became a global sensation. Now there is nothing that Egyptologists can learn about Tut that doesn't become headline news.
Who better to grab the headlines than Dr. Zahi Hawass, the showman secretary general of Egypt's supreme council of antiquities? This time, Hawass steps into the spotlight for King Tut Unwrapped, showing at 8 p.m. (E.T/P.T) Sunday, Feb. 21, and continuing at 8 p.m. (E.T./P.T.), Monday, Feb. 22, on the Discovery Channel.
The title of the show is a bit of a misnomer, for Tut was unwrapped long ago by over-eager Egyptologists who didn't understand the importance of keeping mummies intact. (In fact, Carter's crew literally broke the mummy with crude instruments trying to pry it loose from its case.) Actually, this program is "unwrapping" Tut's genetic code.
Tut was born in the 18th Dynasty during a time of great unrest in the 4,000-year-old Egyptian civilization. The Pharaoh Akhenaten denounced all gods and pronounced his own god, the Aten, the one true god. He and his beautiful queen, Nefertiti, moved the capital from Thebes to a new desert city called Amarna. The priesthood of Amun (the former head god) together with the military, formed a serious threat to Akhenaten. Until King Tut Unwrapped ittle was known about the young king's status, for he was born at the time of Amarna, yet the old gods were restored during his brief reign. He died at age 19.
The lively and often clownish Hawass takes the audience on bouncy jeep rides as he searches for just the right mummies to test for DNA samples. These delicate vials of material, plus the genetic material drawn from Tut himself are delivered to an international team of forensic scientists, some who are experts in ancient or degenerated DNA. The team spends untold hours working on Tut's DNA alone, which has been contaminated.Continued on the next page