Two Brothers Mummies Weren’t Full Brothers After All

It turns out that the “two brothers” mummies weren’t actually full brothers after all. A new DNA test of a pair of 4000-year-old mummies returned some surprising results.

Two Brothers Mummies
Image source: Gidzy/Flickr

Two Brothers Mummies

The two brothers mummies were initially discovered in a Cairo burial site back in 1907, and date back to the year 1800 B.C. The inscription on the coffins suggested that the mummies were related, and that they shared a single mother named Khnum-aa. While they were labeled the two brothers mummies, it turns out that they’re actually only half-brothers – sharing a mother but coming from a different father.

Back when the two brothers mummies were first studied in 1908, researchers determined that the skeletons showed different kinds of skeletal morphologies that suggested that there was something amiss about their familial relationship. Initial thoughts were that one of the mummies may have been adopted, but the recent testing indicates that they were, indeed, related after all.

The DNA test revealed that the mummies belonged to two men from the elite class in Egypt, named Khnum-Nakht and Nakht-Ankh. The study that determined that the two brothers mummies came from different fathers was carried out by researchers from the University of Manchester using DNA sequencing.

DNA Sequencing

Konstantina Drosou, a researcher from the University of Manchester who was involved in the study, said that it was a painstaking process to arrive at an accurate result. While this information about the two brothers mummies doesn’t necessarily revolutionize the field of Egyptology, it’s a significant piece of information regarding a pair of mummies that have been studied for over 100 years. DNA sequencing of ancient mummies has a number of implications when it comes to discovering more about the the beginnings of civilization.

The Two Brothers Study

In order to obtain the DNA required to come to these conclusions regarding the two brothers mummies, ancient DNA from the teeth of the bodies was extracted back in 2015. Science Examiner reports that this extraction was followed by “hybridization capture for the Y chromosome fractions as well as the mitochondrial, which was sequenced using the next generation method.”

The findings regarding the surprising connection of the two brothers mummies were published in the journal Archaeological Science, and revealed that both Khnum-Nakht and Nakht-Ankh had a similar M1a1 mitochondrial haplotype – suggesting a relationship from the maternal side. Currently, the sequences for Y chromosomes are incomplete, but they do show variations that suggest a different father, making the two brothers mummies only half-siblings.

While the two brothers mummies were discovered back in 1908, it’s only just now that we were able to determine why exactly the skeletons had morphological differences. With advances in technology, there’s no telling what new knowledge we may unlock regarding the history of ancient Egypt and other cultures. While the practical applications of this new information might not be readily apparent, it does give us answers to an age old mystery that had stumped scientists for quite some time.