Revisiting Tutankhamun: his rise, death, and family lineage, thrown into question with the genetic testing of KV55 and KV35YL in the Valley of the Kings.
History teaches very little about the legendary boy-king Tutankhamun, who came to power in Egypt as the 12th king in the 18th dynasty for a brief period of time, expiring in his 19th year. Early speculation was rampant that Tutankhamun had been murdered by zealous throne seekers, yet science has all but disproven that theory with CT scans which revealed his cause of death to be accidental in nature. Tutankhamun’s lineage was long contested by scholars; widely accepted to be the son of Pharoah Akhenaten and Kiya, Akhenaten’s secondary wife, this has since been thrown into question with the discovery of tombs KV55 and KV35YL in the Valley of the Kings after genetic testing.
Tutankhamun’s Nine Year Reign
Tutankhamun came to power around 1332-1333 B.C . Previously the throne had been occupied by Amenhotep III, followed by Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, and then Tutankhamen, the boy-king. Tutankhamen likely was a pawn in a quest for power; only 10 years old when he took the crown, his advisor Ay wielded great political power and quickly claimed the throne for himself after Tutankhamun’s death. Tutankhamun came to power in Egypt at a tumultuous time; Pharoah Akhenaten and his principal wife Nefertiti had built a beautiful city in Amarna in the north, and proceeded to worship the sun God Aten and demanded the same of their followers, later earning him the nickname “the heretic King”. Many villagers would not disobey Amun and worship this new deity, and a volatile time followed. By the time Tutankhamen claimed the throne after Akhenaten’s death, there was civil unrest, and Tutankhamun sought to restore the old religion by rebuilding Amun’s temples to unite Egypt once more. Tutankhamun was married to Ankhesenamen, the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, who bore him no live children at the time of his death.
The Egyptian royal bloodline was rife with incestuous relations, most likely to keep the bloodline pure. Tutankhamun was no different; genetic testing done in 2010 proved that Tutankhamun’s parents were full-blooded brother and sister. This could have culminated in a myriad of health problems for Tutankhamun. Studies of Tutankhamen’s mummy show that the boy-king was extremely fragile; he was born with a clubfoot which required a walking cane, had a cleft palette, and suffered from malaria which would have drastically reduced healing time. What eventually killed Tutankhamun was quite likely a fall of some sort which created a leg fracture; malaria would have slowed the healing considerably and likely created a prime opportunity for infection. Tutaknhamun was buried in the Valley of the Kings, his funeral being presided over by Ay, who went on to claim the throne and marry Ankhesenamen in Tutankhamun’s absence. Tutankhamun’s tomb was unearthed in 1922 by Howard Carter. Carter found a plethora of riches, along with the mummified remains of two female stillborns. Genetic testing in 2010 revealed that these are in fact the unborn children of both Tutankhamen and his wife Ankhesenamen.
Tutankhamun’s Contested Lineage
The scholastic world was shocked with the discovery of a cache of mummies in the Valley of the Kings in 1907. Two mummies which have yet to be conclusively identified, KV55 (male) and KV35YL (female) have been genetically proven to be Tutankhamun’s parents. This is quite intriguing because KV55 and KV35YL have also been genetically proven to be full-blooded brother and sister. Assuming that Akhenaten is mummy KV55, which is widely believed, it is unlikely that Kiya or Nefertiti was in fact mummy KV35YL, unless historical reports are wrong regarding their ancestral lineage. Neither Kiya nor Nefertiti was believed to be daughters of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, parents of Akhenaten and grandparents of Tutankhamun, giving rise to various theories on the identity of Tutankhamun’s birth mother. Amunhotep III and Queen Tiye, whose mummies were both conclusively identified in the Valley of the Kings, were found to be Tutankhamun’s grandparents through genetic testing. There is a movement of people who believe that mummy KV55 is in fact that of Smenkhkare, a Pharoah who ruled briefly between Akhenaten and Tutankhamun. The identity of Smenkhkare has been rife with speculation, with some scholars believing Smenkhkare to in fact be Nefertiti, who assumed a new name as co-regent to her husband’s crown. Others believe Smenkhkare to be the full-blooded brother of Akhenaten, son of Amunhotep III and Queen Tiye. While scholars can attest to the identity of KV55 with some accuracy (most believe it to be Akhenaten), the identity of KV35YL (Tutankhamun’s mother) is not as clear.
Tutankhamun’s short reign did not make a definitive impression on Egyptian history, yet people remain fascinated by him, due mainly in part to his tomb which was found largely intact, a monument to the beauty of ancient Egypt. Scholars hope to find conclusive answers on Tutankhamun’s lineage as further investigation is conducted.