This weekend I received a link via email to a news story about how the King Tut DNA proved he was Western European. The sender is an erstwhile ancient astronaut (and especially Zecharia Sitchin) supporter. Somehow, he thought that this idea (if it were true) proved Sitchin was right. I know. You’re trying to connect those dots as you read. Good luck. Even if it were the case, such DNA distribution is easily explainable by things like human migration (i.e., people were migrating long before there was an ancient Egypt as we know it; no aliens needed).

But I was naturally suspicious of the report. I’m not versed in genetics, but I know people who are. And in this case, someone who has followed the King Tut material closely: Kate Phizackerley, who writes an excellent Egyptology blog. I’ve linked to her material before here at PaleoBabble, and I’ve also brought it to some of my students at WWU in my ancient Egypt class.

I sent Kate the story (beware that the some site filters grade it as dangerous; here’s an alternate version of the story) and asked her to look into it. She was quick on the draw. She posted her take on this topic today (Kate, we’ve never met, but if we do, I owe you lunch). Here is Kate’s response. It’s fair, it’s thorough and it’s technical in places. It’s also the best discussion of this you’ll find on the web. It shows once again that the three most potent antidotes in the world to ancient astronaut nonsense (and paleobabble of all kinds) are primary sources, peer-reviewed science, and logic.

Some pulled highlight quotations from her response:

  • Observing the haplogroup of an individual tells us about the individual’s haplogroup but it doesn’t directly reveal the haplogroup of their ancestors.  If somebody speaks perfect English, that doesn’t mean their parents also spoke perfect English: they might have spoken Spanish or Hindi.  It’s dangerous to extrapolate from one individual.
  • Even if Tutankhamun’s haplogroup is R1b that doesn’t mean his paternal ancestors were R1b as well.  They might have been a different haplogroup but have diverged from it by genetic mutation.  At the least, the analysis would need to show that Tutankhamun and his couldn’t be any other haplogroup, or at least that it would be statistically unlikely.  Showing that R1b is possible is not the same as showing that other haplogroups are not possible.
  • This though is the crux.  Even if you believe that Tutankhamun and his ancestors had a haplogroup of R1b would that make him European.  In short, not necessarily and, I believe once other factors are taken into account, almost certainly not.
  • Rather than look to Europe for an explanation, I think it is significantly more likely to look to the Sahara.  At the end of the Ice Age we know it was a fertile savannah.  If you talk with Andie Byrnes or read her blog on the Western Desserts, you’ll learn that ancient petroglyphs are present all across the Libyan dessert as well as the Egyptian. We believe that the Sahara was well populated.  As dessertification took place, the population would migrate in search of water.  Inevitably many must have followed the great rivers like the Niger into Southwestern Subharan Africa.  Other might have migrated eastwards into Egypt and settled around Egypt’s western oases – notably Siwa – and perhaps into the Nile Valley itself.  Such an explanation could, I believe, easily account for a haplogroup of R1b in the New Kingdom royal male line and seems entirely more plausible, in the context of social anthropology, than reaching to Europe for an explanation.

Isn’t logic refreshing? Please read Kate’s entire post.