Mummy DNA reveals clues to Egyptian ancestry

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In 332 BCE Alexander the Great led his troops across the Nile and entered the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, ushering in a new period in history.

But did the incursion by the Macedonian general and his legions leave a genetic mark on the conquered population? The answer, it turns out, is a mildly surprising “no”.

A team led by Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, sequenced mitochondrial DNA sourced from 90 mummies originally interred in the ancient settlement of Abusir el-Meleq on the Nile floodplain.

The mummies, now stored in two German museum collections, date from between 1400 BCE and 400 CE, providing a DNA palette that stretches from the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty ruler Amenhotep II through to the more recent periods marked by invasions and settlements by Greeks and Romans.

The sequenced DNA was compared to reference genomes obtained from modern Egyptian people.

The results, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that ancient Egyptians shared more DNA with Levant populations than their modern counterparts.

In contrast, today’s Egyptians share around eight per cent more DNA with sub-Saharan African people. Krause and his team speculate this could be due to the slave trade, which saw up to seven million sub-Saharan Africans brought into Egypt over a 1,250 year period, peaking in the nineteenth century.

Of Greek and Roman genetic influence, however, there was nary a trace. The result was in one way unexpected because there is ample archaeological and written evidence that Greek and Roman migrants settled in the area, and that Egyptian high society, at least to some extent, adopted and modified Greek and Roman language and customs. *Continue reading on the next page.

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