Two of Britain’s most well-known mummies could be at the centre of a 4,000-year-old family scandal, after DNA analysis showed they had different fathers.
The bodies of priests Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh were discovered in excavations in Egypt led by the renowned British archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1907. Their grave, found at Deir Rifeh, 250 miles south of Cairo was dubbed ‘the tomb of the two brothers’ after sarcophagi inscriptions revealed both men were the sons of a local governor.
However, new DNA tests by the University of Manchester found that while they had the same mother, they had different fathers.
It is the first analysis of mummies anywhere in the world to use both mitochondrial DNA, which comes from the mother, and Y chromosome DNA which comes from the father.
Scientists are unsure whether the finding suggests one of the brothers was adopted, or if their mother had an affair, and the true lineage of one of the boys was never publicly acknowledged.
Dr Konstantina Drosou, of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester who conducted the DNA sequencing, said: “It was a long and exhausting journey to the results but we are finally here.
Archaeologists had suspected for some time that the ‘two brothers’ were not related. Although their coffin images looked identical, there were problems with their bones.
When the complete contents of the tomb were shipped to Manchester in 1908 and the mummies of both men were unwrapped by the UK’s first professional female Egyptologist, Dr Margaret Murray, her team concluded that the skeletal morphologies were very different, suggesting an absence of family relationship.
To find out for sure in 2015, the DNA was extracted from the teeth and, sequenced. Analysis showed that both Nakht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht belonged to mitochondrial haplotype M1a1, suggesting a maternal relationship.
The Y chromosome sequences were less complete but showed variations between the two mummies, indicating different fathers.
The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.