First Ancient Egyptian Genomes

March 14, 2017

This is a talk that will be given at the 82nd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, BC, Canada from March 29–April 2, 2017. New genome-wide data show that Ancient Egyptians had less Sub-Saharan African ancestry than Modern Egyptians and were closely related to Middle Easterners, which will surely upset Afrocentrists. More ancient genomes from earlier periods should follow soon.

[203] Ancient Egyptian Mummy Genomes Suggest an Increase of Sub-Saharan African Ancestry in Post-Roman Periods

Krause, Johannes (Max Planck Institute—SHH), Verena Schuenemann (Institute for Archaeological Sciences, University of Tübingen), Alexander Peltzer (Department for Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Inst), Wolfgang Haak (Department for Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Inst) and Stephan Schiffels (Department for Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Inst)

Egypt, located on the isthmus of Africa, is an ideal region to study historical population dynamics due to its geographic location and documented interactions with ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Particularly, in the first millennium BCE Egypt endured foreign domination leading to growing numbers of foreigners living within its borders possibly contributing genetically to the local population. Here we mtDNA and nuclear DNA from mummified humans recovered from Middle Egypt that span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the Third Intermediate to the Roman Period. Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more Near Eastern ancestry than present-day Egyptians, who received additional Sub-Saharan admixture in more recent times. This analysis establishes ancient Egyptian mummies as a genetic source to study ancient human history and offers the perspective of deciphering Egypt’s past at a genome-wide level.

Hopefully a deeper transect, into the Old Kingdom, Early Dynastic, and Predynastic, is to follow. My prediction (I would be happy to be wrong) is that this DNA came from tooth or bone — I think mummified soft tissue has mostly been a source of disappointment. Differential relatedness of modern Copts and non-Copts to the ancient samples would be something to look out for.

If any of these talks is going to really upset some people, it’ll be this one.