Controversy over DNA sequencing of 90 Egyptian mummies


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/05/31/new-controversial-dna-sequenci.html


#2

The area of study is especially controversial due to fear it will be seized upon by various groups for political purposes.

That sounds more like a risk than a fear to me. As well as having nontroversial significance. Continents are defined by plate tectonics, so there is no reason to assume that ethnic grouping should coincide with one certain land mass or other.


#3

It puts certain tenets ofEgyptian Nationalism in doubt! the horror.


#4

I’m a bit dubious over any DNA analysis of mummies - even when the research, such as here, has gone a good way to ensure samples from within the bodies. It is very hard to know how contaminated the bodies have become through preparation, burial, excavation and storage. The crazy wide distribution suggests that the data is at the very least, noisy.

Bearing in mind this includes mummies from the Roman period, DNA from elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin doesn’t seem too unusual. From the establishment of Ptolomeic Egypt onwards, the Nile valley became a true fusion culture where people from all over the Mediterranean gravitated towards centres of government and learning. And you needed to be wealthy to be mummified, so you would expect to see a disproportionate number of wealthy foreigners in later burials.

There’s a ferocious academic debate/bitter argument about the racial origins of Ancient Egypt which goes well back into the 19th Century when Europeans were desperate to claim some measure of kinship with what was clearly a brilliant culture. In more recent times it has tended to swing the other way with claims that Ancient Egypt was a black, African civilisation.

The records left by the Egyptians themselves as well as their artworks show that they were neither - they were Egyptians (but not modern Arabs) - they portrayed other cultures quite differently from the way they portrayed themselves, sometimes with breathtaking accuracy. And Egypt regularly recruited new populations either through slavery (such as by their annexation of Nubia), their conquest by the Hittites and later in their history by the Persians and Greeks.

The whole subject is now incredibly toxic thanks to modern nationalism, both within Egypt and from outside. Wikipedia has a good summary here:


#5

Well, ethnic grouping is also dependent on migration patterns, so we should expect geography to have effects on ethnic grouping, but only insofar as it affects migration patterns.


#6

And then we find out that King Tut’s father was really the Egyptian God of Milkmen.


#7

So good it is linked in the original post!


#8

Science doesn’t always provide the easy answers. Instead it often provides the opportunity to ask more interesting questions. Usually, this epistomological bias collides with existing mythologies-- mythologies that are less about being true, and more about providing useful social narratives.


#9

The DNA results really just confirm what was assumed based on hair samples, bone structure analysis, linguistic studies, and of course ancient art. History is what it is, and the more information we can add to our knowledge of human migration patterns and the development of ancient civilizations, the better off we are.
It really bugs me when people edit history to conform to their political beliefs. It is supposed to work the other way around.


#10

So is it possible that the surviving decedents of people who used to live in Egypt migrated to Near Eastern and European, and the current residents migrated from sub-Saharan Africa? IIRC, the Nubians from south of Egypt took over at one point as well, so even back then there was genetic mixing.

The fact is, other than Africa, no one living where they do now started there. Everyone migrated from Africa at some point. Certain populations had enough isolation to build different phenotypes that were discernible from a different group. Nothing in their genetics really makes anyone group better than the other.

Serious questions, do the Mummies have Neanderthal DNA? If they don’t they couldn’t have come from Europe or Near Asia, they came from Africa and later migrated. Even if they did come from somewhere else north and/or east, who cares?


#11

No reason to be dubious. They’re generally not analyzing tissue that could be contaminated by contact. AFAIK, they use bone or tooth marrow (hair sometimes). And the fact that they do this to multiple mummies with multiple substantiating results would rule out any rare contamination, should it occur.


#12

Even inside Africa there’s been a lot of movement.


#13

If it hasn’t been ‘approved’ by Egypt’s forever and always archeology head honcho and hyper-publicity hound extraordinaire, Zahi Hawass, then it means nothing. Bupkis. Anything of worth must be discovered by him and no one else.


#14

I suspect most modern Egyptian nationalists identify as Arab, given the Arab conquests.


#15

Definitely a fear. Risk means something quantifiable which is damn near impossible to measure regarding information being used for political purposes.


#16

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