The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has solved a century-long mystery over the identity of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. It was since 1915 that researchers struggled to recognize a mummy head which was discovered in the corner of a looted tomb in Deir El Bersha, an ancient Egyptian necropolis. The head was believed to be either of the provincial governor Djehutynakht or his wife. For decades, the mystery was left unsolved until the scientists at the FBI stepped in. They used an innovative cutting-edge technology to solve the mystery.
The researchers’ findings were published in a popular journal Genes on March 2018 which had details into how they may soon discover nuclear DNA from even the most damaged specimen. To identify the sex of the mummy, the department’s biologist Odile Lorielle used an advanced Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA) sequencing technology. She drilled into a tooth extracted from the skull, collected the powder and dissolved it in a chemical solution that was then run through a DNA copy machine. And by checking the ratio of sex chromosomes, she was able to understand that the skull was male.
The Egyptian mummy was not a fully preserved body, but rather a beheaded, injured, bandage-wrapped head that archaeologists found on top of a coffin. Odile Lorielle told CNN, “I didn’t think it was going to work, I thought it would be too degraded, or that there would not be enough material.” The scientists further informed that the age of the mummy and the fact that it was discovered in a desert environment, made it challenging to extract the DNA. Because the molecule that contains our genetic code, breaks down over time especially in a warmer atmosphere.
FBI’s DNA support unit chief, Anthony Onorato was quoted in the same report of CNN saying, “It’s not like the FBI has a unit that just does historical cases. It’s that we’re actually trying to develop criminal procedures using historical items.” And the mystery still remains unclear as to which Djehutynakht the head belonged to. As the researchers wrote in the journal that there were two governors with the same name who ruled an area call Hare Nome and there is no evidence that they were related.