Scientists who managed to obtain full genome sequences of Ancient Egyptians for the first time have concluded the people of the pharaohs were more closely related to modern Europeans and inhabitants of the Near East rather than present-day Egyptians.
But the claims sparked suspicion from one leading Egyptologist, who questioned whether genetic analysis could justify such a sweeping statement and pointed to a long history of spurious attempts to separate ancient Egyptians from the modern-day population.
The mummies were taken from a single archaeological site on the River Nile, Abusir el-Meleq, which was inhabited from 3,250BC to 700AD and was home to a cult of Osiris, the god of the dead, making it a good place to be buried.
A complete genome sequence was obtained for three mummies and mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line, was obtained from 90 individuals. They were dated to between about 1,400BC and 400AD.
The researchers, writing in the journal Nature Communications, admitted their sample “may not be representative for all of ancient Egypt”.
Nevertheless, they concluded the mummified people were “distinct from modern Egyptians, and closer towards Near Eastern and European samples”.
“Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more ancestry with Near Easterners than present-day Egyptians,” they wrote.
And they added: “We find that ancient Egyptians are most closely related to Neolithic and Bronze Age samples in the Levant, as well as to Neolithic Anatolian and European populations.
“When comparing this pattern with modern Egyptians, we find that the ancient Egyptians are more closely related to all modern and ancient European populations that we tested, likely due to the additional African component in the modern population.”
In contrast to the changes between the ancient and modern period, the researchers, from Cambridge University and institutions in Germany, Poland and Australia, found…