King Tutankhamun 'died from a broken leg and malaria'

DNA testing and CT scans on 16 mummies reveal that the Egyptian king's parents were probably brother and sister

Associated Press

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 February 2010 08.57 GMT Article history


Egypt's most famous pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, was a frail boy who suffered from a cleft palate and club foot, according to a study published today that shows he died of complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria and his parents were most likely brother and sister.


Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on Tutankhamun's 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others are helping end many of the myths surrounding the boy king. While a comparatively minor ruler, he has captivated the public since the 1922 discovery of his tomb, which was filled with a stunning array of jewels and artefacts, including a golden funeral mask.


The study, which will be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, provides the firmest family tree yet for Tutankhamun. The tests pointed to Pharaoh Akhenaten, who tried to revolutionise ancient Egyptian religion to worship one god, as Tutankhamun's father. His mother was one of Akhenaten's sisters, it said.


Tutankhamun, who became pharaoh at age 10 in 1333BC , ruled for just nine years at a pivotal time in Egypt's history. Speculation has long swirled over his death at 19. A hole in his skull fuelled speculation he was murdered, until a 2005 CT scan ruled that out, finding the hole was likely from the mummification process. The scan also uncovered the broken leg.


The newest tests paint a picture of a pharaoh whose immune system was likely weakened by congenital diseases. His death came from complications from the broken leg – along with a new discovery: severe malaria.


The team said it found DNA of the malaria parasite in several of the mummies, some of the oldest ever isolated.


"A sudden leg fracture possibly introduced by a fall might have resulted in a life threatening condition when a malaria infection occurred," the JAMA article said.


"Tutankhamun had multiple disorders … He might be envisioned as a young but frail king who needed canes to walk," it said.


The revelations are in stark contrast to the popular image of a graceful boy-king as portrayed by the dazzling funerary artefacts in his tomb that later introduced much of the world to the glory of ancient Egypt.


They also highlighted the role genetics play in some diseases. The members of the 18th dynasty were closely inbred and the DNA studies found several genetic disorders in the mummies tested such as scoliosis – curvature of the spine – and club feet.


Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, said some of King Tutankhamun's ailments including his bone disease likely were the result of his parents' incestuous marriage. Children born to parents who are so closely related to each other would be prone to genetic problems, he said.


Like his father, Tutankhamun had a cleft palate. Like his grandfather, he had a club foot and suffered from Kohler's disease which inhibits the supply of blood to the bones of the foot.


In Tutankhamun's case it was slowly destroying the bones in his left foot – an often painful condition, the study said. It noted that 130 walking sticks and canes were discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb, some of them appearing to have been used.


Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, who co-authored the study, noted that more than 80 years after Tutankhamun's discovery, technology was revealing secrets about the pharaoh.


The study is part of a wider programme to test the DNA of hundreds of mummies to determine their identities and their family relations. To conduct the tests, Egypt built two DNA labs to follow international protocols for genetic testing.


Hawass, who had long opposed DNA testing on Egypt's mummies because it would have been performed outside the country, acknowledged his original scepticism. "I never thought that we would really reach a great important discovery," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.


The new study answered long-standing questions about Tutankhamun's family, tracing his grandfather to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. While some archaeologists have speculated that Tutankhamun's father was a little-known figure, Smenkhkare, it now appears that it was Akhenaten, who attempted to change millennia of religious tradition by forcing the country to worship the sun god Aten, instead of a multiplicity of deities.


DNA tests pinpointed the mummy of Tutankhamun's mother – and confirmed she was a sister of his father – but the mummy has not yet been firmly identified. Brother-sister marriages were common among Egypt's pharaohs.


"There is a lot fuzziness about the succession and that's why knowing Tutankhamun was the son or direct blood descendant would make a difference," said Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo and an expert on mummies.


The tests also disproved speculation that Tutankhamun and members of his family suffered from rare disorders that gave them feminine attributes and misshapen bones, including Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can result in elongated limbs.


The theories arose from the artistic style and statues of the period, which showed the royal men with prominent breasts, elongated heads and flared hips.


"It is unlikely that either Tutankhamun or Akhenaten actually displayed a significantly bizarre or feminine physique," the article said.


Hawass' first high profile discovery involving DNA tests, the identification of the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, came under criticism because it did not follow accepted scientific protocols and was not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.


The tests were also not confirmed by a second, independent DNA lab.


This time the work by the Supreme Council of Antiquities DNA lab was replicated by a second DNA lab set up at Cairo University and the results were then published in the American medical journal.


Angelique Corthals, an assistant professor of forensic science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York helped set up the first Egyptian lab and said the work is being conducted according to international standards.


Hawass predicted that many more discoveries were in the works for King Tutankhamun and the mummy project.


"It will never be revealed completely, still we need more research," he said. "We finished the first great part of the mystery and the second one is coming soon in one year."



Pitt-led study debunks millennia-old claims of systematic infant sacrifice in ancient Carthage

Researchers examined 348 burial urns to learn that about a fifth of the children were prenatal at death, indicating that young Carthaginian children were cremated and interred in ceremonial urns regardless of cause of death

Public release date: 17-Feb-2010

Contact: Morgan Kelly



University of Pittsburgh


PITTSBURGH—A study led by University of Pittsburgh researchers could finally lay to rest the millennia-old conjecture that the ancient empire of Carthage regularly sacrificed its youngest citizens. An examination of the remains of Carthaginian children revealed that most infants perished prenatally or very shortly after birth and were unlikely to have lived long enough to be sacrificed, according to a Feb. 17 report in PLoS ONE.


The findings—based on the first published analysis of the skeletal remains found in Carthaginian burial urns—refute claims from as early as the 3rd century BCE of systematic infant sacrifice at Carthage that remain a subject of debate among biblical scholars and archaeologists, said lead researcher Jeffrey H. Schwartz, a professor of anthropology and history and philosophy of science in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences and president of the World Academy of Art and Science. Schwartz and his colleagues present the more benign interpretation that very young Punic children were cremated and interred in burial urns regardless of how they died.


"Our study emphasizes that historical scientists must consider all evidence when deciphering ancient societal behavior," Schwartz said. "The idea of regular infant sacrifice in Carthage is not based on a study of the cremated remains, but on instances of human sacrifice reported by a few ancient chroniclers, inferred from ambiguous Carthaginian inscriptions, and referenced in the Old Testament. Our results show that some children were sacrificed, but they contradict the conclusion that Carthaginians were a brutal bunch who regularly sacrificed their own children."


Schwartz worked with Frank Houghton of the Veterans Research Foundation of Pittsburgh, Roberto Macchiarelli of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome to inspect the remains of children found in Tophets, burial sites peripheral to conventional Carthaginian cemeteries for older children and adults. Tophets housed urns containing the cremated remains of young children and animals, which led to the theory that they were reserved for victims of sacrifice.


Schwartz and his coauthors tested the all-sacrifice claim by examining the skeletal remains from 348 urns for developmental markers that would determine the children's age at death. Schwartz and Houghton recorded skull, hip, long bone, and tooth measurements that indicated most of the children died in their first year with a sizeable number aged only two to five months, and that at least 20 percent of the sample was prenatal.


Schwartz and Houghton then selected teeth from 50 individuals they concluded had died before or shortly after birth and sent them to Macchiarelli and Bondioli, who examined the samples for a neonatal line. This opaque band forms in human teeth between the interruption of enamel production at birth and its resumption within two weeks of life. Identification of this line is commonly used to determine an infant's age at death. Macchiarelli and Bondioli found a neonatal line in the teeth of 24 individuals, meaning that the remaining 26 individuals died prenatally or within two weeks of birth, the researchers reported.


The contents of the urns also dispel the possibility of mass infant sacrifice, Schwartz and Houghton noted. No urn contained enough skeletal material to suggest the presence of more than two complete individuals. Although many urns contained some superfluous fragments belonging to additional children, the researchers concluded that these bones remained from previous cremations and may have inadvertently been mixed with the ashes of subsequent cremations.


The team's report also disputes the contention that Carthaginians specifically sacrificed first-born males. Schwartz and Houghton determined sex by measuring the sciatic notch—a crevice at the rear of the pelvis that's wider in females—of 70 hipbones. They discovered that 38 pelvises came from females and 26 from males. Two others were likely female, one likely male, and three undetermined.


Schwartz and his colleagues conclude that the high incidence of prenate and infant mortality are consistent with modern data on stillbirths, miscarriages, and infant death. They write that if conditions in other ancient cities held in Carthage, young and unborn children could have easily succumbed to the diseases and sanitary shortcomings found in such cities as Rome and Pompeii.



Archaeologists in Rome Link Sanctuary of Nemi to Aeneas's Golden Bough

Submitted by Bija Knowles on Fri, 02/19/2010 - 10:41


Professor Filippo Coarelli was one of the excavators at the Sanctuary of Nemi, near Rome. Photo by B Knowles.Some 10 miles south-east of Rome, archaeologists have been excavating a site they believe was of great religious importance to the ancient Romans as well as to bronze-age communities. The dig at the sanctuary of Diana and Nemi (also known as Diana Nemorense), overlooking Lake Nemi, has found ceramic pieces dating from the 13th and 12th centuries BC, a stone enclosure and evidence that a large religious complex once existed there.


The archaeologists involved in the excavation, including Filippo Coarelli, a leading expert on ancient Rome and former professor of archaeology at the University of Perugia, believe that the site they've been examining in recent months could even be associated with the legend of the Trojan Aeneas.


Professor Coarelli, who also worked on the excavation of a villa believed to have belonged to the emperor Vespasian, said in a recent interview: "At the moment we're excavating, among other places, at the Sanctuary of Nemi, which is one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Lazio. It was made famous by James Frazer's The Golden Bough series of books, which begins and ends at Nemi, because it's one of the most noteworthy ancient centres of religion and culture."


Virgil's Aeneid tells the story of how Aeneas (who, according to mythology, founded Rome several centuries before the city was built by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC) carries a branch of a tree with gold leaves to protect him as he travelled through the underworld – as instructed by the Sibyl of Cumae. Legend also has it that the 'golden' tree was protected by a priest (or in some versions a king) and when a bough was cut off, a slave would also be able to kill the priest/king and then replace him, only to be killed himself in future by another slave.


At the moment we're excavating, among other places, at the Sanctuary of Nemi, which is one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Lazio.

Of course this is mythology, but this wouldn't be the first time a site has been identified with Virgil's adventures of Aeneas. In 1932, another eminent archaeologist, Amedeo Maiuri, discovered and excavated the site of the same oracle mentioned by Virgil – the Sibyl of Cumae. This underground passage 131 metres long, carved in rock near Naples, is known as the 'Antro della Sibilla', or the Cave of the Sibyl, and the association with her is based on Virgil's description of her cave.


The importance of the golden bough as a cultural symbol was sealed when the Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazer wrote his work named after the mythical icon. In The Golden Bough, Frazer put forth ideas on religion and mythology, giving an anthropological view of religion as opposed to the dogmatic theological views that dominated in Britain in the 1890s.


Getting to the Root of the Matter

So what has the dig at Nemi actually turned up? According to Professor Coarelli, the excavators have found a stone enclosure surrounding the remains of what appear to be a large tree, which is positioned in the middle of the religious Sanctuary of Nemi. Pottery votive offerings also indicate the importance of the site and the tree.


Professor Christopher Smith, head of the British School at Rome, told Nick Squires of the Telegraph: "It's an intriguing discovery and adds evidence to the fact that this was an extraordinarily important sanctuary."


Of course we may never know if the Sanctuary of Diana Nemorense at Nemi was also where the magical tree of legend grew. The association may remain a nice idea and a pleasant 'maybe' for those who like to think there is some truth to the Greek myths as told by Virgil. What is certain is that Nemi is a large and important ancient religious site, one of the most important in Lazio, and more excavation may be needed to discover its full history.


Golden Bough from Roman mythology 'found in Italy'

Italian archaeologists claim to have found a stone enclosure which once protected the legendary "Golden Bough".

By Nick Squires in Rome

Published: 6:30AM GMT 18 Feb 2010


In Roman mythology, the bough was a tree branch with golden leaves that enabled the Trojan hero Aeneas to travel through the underworld safely.


They discovered the remains while excavating religious sanctuary built in honour of the goddess Diana near an ancient volcanic lake in the Alban Hills, 20 miles south of Rome.


The tree was central to the myth of Aeneas, who was told by a spirit to pluck a branch bearing golden leaves to protect himself when he ventured into Hades to seek counsel from his dead father.


In a second, more historically credible legend, the Latins believed it symbolised the power of their priest-king.


Anyone who broke off a branch, even a fugitive slave, could then challenge the king in a fight to the death. If the king was killed in the battle, the challenger assumed his position as the tribe's leader.


The discovery was made near the town of Nemi by a team led by Filippo Coarelli, a recently retired professor of archaeology at Perugia University.


After months of excavations in the volcanic soil, they unearthed the remains of a stone enclosure.


Shards of pottery surrounding the site date it to the mid to late Bronze Age, between the 12th and 13th centuries BC.


"We found many, many pottery pieces of a votive or ritual nature," said Prof Coarelli. "The location also tells us that it must have been a sacred structure. We spent months excavating, during which we had to cut into enormous blocks of lava."


The stone enclosure is in the middle of an area which contains the ruins of an immense sanctuary dedicated to Diana, the goddess of hunting, along with the remains of terracing, fountains, cisterns and a nymphaeum.


"It's an intriguing discovery and adds evidence to the fact that this was an extraordinarily important sanctuary," said Prof Christopher Smith, the head of the British School at Rome, an archaeological institute.


"We know that trees were grown in containers at temple sites. The Latins gathered here to worship right up until the founding of the Roman republic in 509BC."


The story about the golden bough and Aeneas, who is said to have journeyed from Troy to Italy to found the city of Rome, was documented by Virgil in his epic, the Aeneid.


"Virgil tells us that the sibyls told Aeneas to go to the underworld to take advice from his father but he had to take a branch of gold as a sort of key to allow him access," said Prof Smith.


The legend inspired JMW Turner to paint a grand canvas entitled 'Lake Avernus – The Fates and the Golden Bough', now held by the Tate Collection.



Herodian-era aqueduct unearthed near Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate 

By Nir Hasson 


A well-built aqueduct from time of King Herod was unearthed last week near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem during work on infrastructure in the area.


The site of the discovery is not far from the place where a Byzantine street was recently unearthed.


Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists say they found about 40 meters of the ancient waterway, which was part of the sophisticated aqueduct that brought water to Jerusalem from springs in the Hebron hills to the south to the Mamilla pool, which still exists today, and from there through the aqueduct to Hezekiah's Pool within the walled city.



Archaeologists say the aqueduct was first built in the first century BCE, and was in use in the second century. Within it were discovered roof tiles from the Roman Tenth Legion, which controlled the city at that time.


The aqueduct, which is 1.5 meters high and 60 centimeters wide, was built of large, flat stones. Every 15 meters a shaft connected the aqueduct to the road above it. According to the dig director, Dr. Ofer Sion, the shafts were used in maintenance work on the water system.


The 40-meter stretch ends just before the aqueduct reaches the Old City, where it is blocked, apparently by a collapsed shaft.


Scholars have known of the existence of an aqueduct here for about a century, thanks to a map by the German architect and archaeologist Conrad Schick, who unearthed a few meters of it. It was never excavated because this area is one of the city's busiest intersections.


The recently discovered Byzantine street has already been covered as infrastructure work continues. The fate of the aqueduct has not yet been decided. Israel Antiquities Authority personnel say they believe an entrance to the aqueduct could remain, so that perhaps one day it could be opened to the public. 



Ghana dig reveals ancient society 

Page last updated at 13:12 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Archaeologists have unearthed dozens of clay figures in Ghana, shedding light on a sophisticated society which existed before the arrival of Islam.


Experts from the University of Ghana found 80 sculptures believed to be between 800 and 1,400 years old.


They believe the figures, depicting animal and human forms, are part of a burial ground or shrine.


Archaeologists say the societies that constructed the figures simply disappeared when Islam arrived.


"What is interesting is that the people now living in this area seem to have no connection with the makers of the figurines," said the university's Benjamin Kankpeyeng.


"That would suggest that that they have more in common with peoples living in other parts of West Africa - but we need to do more work before we can be certain."


Mr Kankpeyeng intends to analyse the position and arrangement of the statues with Tim Insoll from the UK's Manchester University.


Mr Insoll told the BBC very little was known about civilisations in the area between 600 and 1200 AD because no written history was kept and the societies ceased to exist when Islam arrived.


He said experts still did not know why the civilisations came to an end - whether the people converted en masse to Islam, or were captured by Arab slave traders.


The statues, he said, could tell historians what kind of people inhabited West Africa in that time.


"Figures have been found in this area before, but what we can do with the latest find is map their arrangement to find out what their purpose was - whether for sacrifice or some other ritual," he said.


The northern Ghana site, near the village of Yikpabongo, was first excavated in 1985, and the dig was restarted in 2007.


The latest batch of figures was discovered in January.



Dig helps homeless learn about modern heritage

Press release issued 18 February 2010


A team of homeless people in Bristol have taken part in a small-scale archaeological dig to explore the history of ‘Turbo Island’, a busy traffic island in the heart of the city, with the help of students from the University of Bristol, English Heritage and the police. The excavation is part of a wider project looking into heritage and contemporary homelessness, funded by the Council of British Archaeology.


The inspiration for the dig arose from conversations between homeless people, John Schofield, an English Heritage Archaeologist, and Rachael Marmite, a Bristol-based Urban Archaeologist, during their joint project to find out more about the patterns of life and dwelling places of rough sleepers.


‘Turbo Island’, which is situated between Stokes Croft and Jamaica Street in Bristol, has been frequented by homeless people and street drinkers for at least 40 years and has an interesting history. Stories range from it being a place “where pirates were hanged” to it having been a “speaker’s corner” and a “bombed WW II building”.


Dr Mark Horton, Professor of Archaeology at the University, who came to see the artefacts uncovered in the project, said: "Archaeology is one of those unique sciences that allows people to participate in the process. I would say that this is one of the most innovative archaeological projects going on in Britain at the moment."


English Heritage Archaeologist and co-leader John Schofield said: “This is archaeology at its very best – involving people who really wanted to be there, and who embraced the opportunity with great enthusiasm and good humour. Heritage can and should be for everyone, as this ongoing project has demonstrated.”


Bristol-based Urban-Archaeologist ‘Rachael Marmite’ said: “Using conventional archaeological methods to understand modern culture is both fascinating and socially relevant.”


The results of the dig will be presented in talks and lectures by John Schofield and ‘Rachel Marmite’ in Bristol in Spring 2010, culminating in an exhibition in Stokes Croft.


The archaeological dig was filmed by the BBC’s Inside Out West programme and will air on Monday 22 February at 7.30pm on BBC1.