A new DNA analysis of Ancient Egyptians shows they were more Turkish and European than African.
The team of scientists has recovered and analysed ancient DNA from Egyptian mummies dating from approximately 1400 BC to 400 AD – and they discovered they were genetically similar to people from the Mediterranean.
Researchers from the University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, conducted the first study to establish a proper genetic database to study the ancient past.
The study, published in Nature Communications, found that modern Egyptians share more ancestry with Sub-Saharan Africans than ancient Egyptians did.
They also discovered ancient Egyptians were found to be most closely related to ancient people from the Near East.
Egypt is a promising location for the study of ancient populations, because it was a world-wide trading hub.
Recent advances in the study of ancient DNA present an intriguing opportunity to test existing understandings of Egyptian history using ancient genetic data.
Max Planck Director for the Science of Human History and senior author Johannes Krause said: “The potential preservation of DNA has to be regarded with scepticism.
“The hot Egyptian climate, the high humidity levels in many tombs and some of the chemicals used in mummification techniques, contribute to DNA degradation and are thought to make the long-term survival of DNA in Egyptian mummies unlikely.”
The ability of the authors of this study to extract nuclear DNA from such mummies and to show its reliability is a breakthrough that opens the door to further direct study of mummified remains.
The team sampled 151 mummified individuals from the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, along the Nile River in Middle Egypt, from two anthropological collections hosted and curated at the University of Tuebingen and the Felix von Luschan Skull Collection at the Museum of Prehistory of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preussicher Kulturbesitz.
In total, the authors recovered mitochondrial genomes from 90 individuals, and genome-wide datasets from three individuals.
They were able to use the data gathered to test previous hypotheses drawn from archaeological and historical data, and from studies of modern DNA.
Prof Alexander Peltzer, from the University of Tuebingen, said: “In particular, we were interested in looking at changes and continuities in the genetic makeup of the ancient inhabitants of Abusir el-Meleq.
“We wanted to test if the conquest of Alexander the Great and other foreign powers has left a genetic imprint on the ancient Egyptian population.”
The team wanted to determine if the investigated ancient populations were affected at the genetic level by foreign conquest and domination during the time period under study, and compared these populations to modern Egyptian comparative populations.
The study found that ancient Egyptians were most closely related to ancient populations in the Levant (modern day Syria, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon), and were also closely related to Neolithic populations from the Anatolian Peninsula and Europe.
Fellow researcher Wolfgang Haack, group leader at the Max Planck Institute, added: “The genetics of the Abusir el-Meleq community did not undergo any major shifts during the 1,300 year timespan we studied, suggesting that the population remained genetically relatively unaffected by foreign conquest and rule.”
The data shows that modern Egyptians share approximately eight per cent more ancestry on the nuclear level with Sub-Saharan African populations than with ancient Egyptians.
They are proud that they managed to prove Egyptian mummies can be a reliable source of ancient DNA, and can greatly contribute to a more accurate and refined understanding of Egypt’s population history.