Unlocking the Secrets of Egypt with Tutankhamun's DNA

THE TOMB IS DRY AND HOT. Opposite looms the gowned shape of Hawass, who is scrutinizing Gad’s every move; squeezed into the corner is Discovery’s film crew. Gad tries to hide his nerves. He knows that the others doubt his ability, and for good reason: he has little practice working with mummies. Back in his Cairo lab, he has always been supervised by a foreign tutor. But his very first day pulling DNA without his teacher will be watched by the world, and his subject is the incalculably precious mummy of Tutankhamun.

Insha’Allah, he thinks.

With God’s will.

—Jo Marchant, writing in Matter, on the 2008 effort, led by Egyptian geneticist Yehia Gad, to pull the DNA from the mummy of Tutankhamun. Since archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of the pharaoh’s tomb, researchers have viewed Tutankhamun as the key to Egypt’s ancient history, with numerous players—from the Mormons to major media—wanting a piece of the pharaoh. With work still left to do, and an Egypt currently focused on other priorities, the answers to questions about these ancient kings remain buried.

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 Photo: Carsten Frenzl