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Concept: Ancient Egypt


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 present 90 mitochondrial genomes as well as genome-wide data sets from three individuals obtained from Egyptian mummies. The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period. Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more ancestry with Near Easterners 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.

Concepts: Africa, North Africa, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Slavery, Ancient history, Mummy, Nubia


Queen Nefertari, the favourite Royal Consort of Pharaoh Ramses II (Ancient Egypt, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty c. 1250 BC) is famous for her beautifully decorated tomb in the Valley of the Queens. Her burial was plundered in ancient times yet still many objects were found broken in the debris when the tomb was excavated. Amongst the found objects was a pair of mummified legs. They came to the Egyptian Museum in Turin and are henceforth regarded as the remains of this famous Queen, although they were never scientifically investigated. The following multidisciplinary investigation is the first ever performed on those remains. The results (radiocarbon dating, anthropology, paleopathology, genetics, chemistry and Egyptology) all strongly speak in favour of an identification of the remains as Nefertari’s, although different explanations-albeit less likely-are considered and discussed. The legs probably belong to a lady, a fully adult individual, of about 40 years of age. The materials used for embalming are consistent with Ramesside mummification traditions and indeed all objects within the tomb robustly support the burial as of Queen Nefertari.

Concepts: Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Pharaoh, British Museum, Ramesses II, New Kingdom, Nefertari, Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt


Volcanic eruptions provide tests of human and natural system sensitivity to abrupt shocks because their repeated occurrence allows the identification of systematic relationships in the presence of random variability. Here we show a suppression of Nile summer flooding via the radiative and dynamical impacts of explosive volcanism on the African monsoon, using climate model output, ice-core-based volcanic forcing data, Nilometer measurements, and ancient Egyptian writings. We then examine the response of Ptolemaic Egypt (305-30 BCE), one of the best-documented ancient superpowers, to volcanically induced Nile suppression. Eruptions are associated with revolt onset against elite rule, and the cessation of Ptolemaic state warfare with their great rival, the Seleukid Empire. Eruptions are also followed by socioeconomic stress with increased hereditary land sales, and the issuance of priestly decrees to reinforce elite authority. Ptolemaic vulnerability to volcanic eruptions offers a caution for all monsoon-dependent agricultural regions, presently including 70% of world population.The degree to which human societies have responded to past climatic changes remains unclear. Here, using a novel combination of approaches, the authors show how volcanically-induced suppression of Nile summer flooding led to societal unrest in Ptolemaic Egypt (305-30 BCE).

Concepts: Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Egyptians, Egyptian Arabic, Egyptian language, Achaemenid Empire, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cleopatra VII


The Late Bronze Age world of the Eastern Mediterranean, a rich linkage of Aegean, Egyptian, Syro-Palestinian, and Hittite civilizations, collapsed famously 3200 years ago and has remained one of the mysteries of the ancient world since the event’s retrieval began in the late 19(th) century AD/CE. Iconic Egyptian bas-reliefs and graphic hieroglyphic and cuneiform texts portray the proximate cause of the collapse as the invasions of the “Peoples-of-the-Sea” at the Nile Delta, the Turkish coast, and down into the heartlands of Syria and Palestine where armies clashed, famine-ravaged cities abandoned, and countrysides depopulated. Here we report palaeoclimate data from Cyprus for the Late Bronze Age crisis, alongside a radiocarbon-based chronology integrating both archaeological and palaeoclimate proxies, which reveal the effects of abrupt climate change-driven famine and causal linkage with the Sea People invasions in Cyprus and Syria. The statistical analysis of proximate and ultimate features of the sequential collapse reveals the relationships of climate-driven famine, sea-borne-invasion, region-wide warfare, and politico-economic collapse, in whose wake new societies and new ideologies were created.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Bronze Age, Levant, Nile, Mesopotamia


For the first time it is shown that carbon black inks on ancient Egyptian papyri from different time periods and geographical regions contain copper. The inks have been investigated using synchrotron-based micro X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and micro X-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy (XANES) at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). The composition of the copper-containing carbon inks showed no significant differences that could be related to time periods or the geographical locations. This renders it probable that the same technology for ink production was used throughout Egypt for a period spanning at least 300 years. It is argued that the black pigment material (soot) for these inks was obtained as by-products of technical metallurgy. The copper (Cu) can be correlated with the following three main components: cuprite (Cu2O), azurite (Cu3[CO3]2[OH]2) and malachite (Cu2CO3[OH]2).

Concepts: X-ray, Light, Carbon, Copper, Pigment, Ancient Egypt, Carbon black, Papyrus


BACKGROUND: Atherosclerosis is thought to be a disease of modern human beings and related to contemporary lifestyles. However, its prevalence before the modern era is unknown. We aimed to evaluate preindustrial populations for atherosclerosis. METHODS: We obtained whole body CT scans of 137 mummies from four different geographical regions or populations spanning more than 4000 years. Individuals from ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, the Ancestral Puebloans of southwest America, and the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands were imaged. Atherosclerosis was regarded as definite if a calcified plaque was seen in the wall of an artery and probable if calcifications were seen along the expected course of an artery. FINDINGS: Probable or definite atherosclerosis was noted in 47 (34%) of 137 mummies and in all four geographical populations: 29 (38%) of 76 ancient Egyptians, 13 (25%) of 51 ancient Peruvians, two (40%) of five Ancestral Puebloans, and three (60%) of five Unangan hunter gatherers (p=NS). Atherosclerosis was present in the aorta in 28 (20%) mummies, iliac or femoral arteries in 25 (18%), popliteal or tibial arteries in 25 (18%), carotid arteries in 17 (12%), and coronary arteries in six (4%). Of the five vascular beds examined, atherosclerosis was present in one to two beds in 34 (25%) mummies, in three to four beds in 11 (8%), and in all five vascular beds in two (1%). Age at time of death was positively correlated with atherosclerosis (mean age at death was 43 [SD 10] years for mummies with atherosclerosis vs 32 [15] years for those without; p<0·0001) and with the number of arterial beds involved (mean age was 32 [SD 15] years for mummies with no atherosclerosis, 42 [10] years for those with atherosclerosis in one or two beds, and 44 [8] years for those with atherosclerosis in three to five beds; p<0·0001). INTERPRETATION: Atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations including preagricultural hunter-gatherers. Although commonly assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease. FUNDING: National Endowment for the Humanities, Paleocardiology Foundation, The National Bank of Egypt, Siemens, and St Luke's Hospital Foundation of Kansas City.

Concepts: Human, Atherosclerosis, Heart, Atheroma, Artery, Coronary circulation, Ancient Egypt, Ancient history


The Ancient Egyptians wrote Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days that assigned astronomically influenced prognoses for each day of the year. The best preserved of these calendars is the Cairo Calendar (hereafter CC) dated to 1244-1163 B.C. We have presented evidence that the 2.85 days period in the lucky prognoses of CC is equal to that of the eclipsing binary Algol during this historical era. We wanted to find out the vocabulary that represents Algol in the mythological texts of CC. Here we show that Algol was represented as Horus and thus signified both divinity and kingship. The texts describing the actions of Horus are consistent with the course of events witnessed by any naked eye observer of Algol. These descriptions support our claim that CC is the oldest preserved historical document of the discovery of a variable star. The period of the Moon, 29.6 days, has also been discovered in CC. We show that the actions of Seth were connected to this period, which also strongly regulated the times described as lucky for Heaven and for Earth. Now, for the first time, periodicity is discovered in the descriptions of the days in CC. Unlike many previous attempts to uncover the reasoning behind the myths of individual days, we discover the actual rules in the appearance and behaviour of deities during the whole year.

Concepts: Moon, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Egyptians, Egyptian Arabic, Egyptian language, Coptic language, Variable star


We applied, for the first time, next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology on Egyptian mummies. Seven NGS datasets obtained from five randomly selected Third Intermediate to Graeco-Roman Egyptian mummies (806 BC-124AD) and two unearthed pre-contact Bolivian lowland skeletons were generated and characterised. The datasets were contrasted to three recently published NGS datasets obtained from cold-climate regions, i.e. the Saqqaq, the Denisova hominid and the Alpine Iceman. Analysis was done using one million reads of each newly generated or published dataset. Blastn and megablast results were analysed using MEGAN software. Distinct NGS results were replicated by specific and sensitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) protocols in ancient DNA dedicated laboratories. Here, we provide unambiguous identification of authentic DNA in Egyptian mummies. The NGS datasets showed variable contents of endogenous DNA harboured in tissues. Three of five mummies displayed a human DNA proportion comparable to the human read count of the Saqqaq permafrost-preserved specimen. Furthermore, a metagenomic signature unique to mummies was displayed. By applying a “bacterial fingerprint”, discrimination among mummies and other remains from warm areas outside Egypt was possible. Due to the absence of an adequate environment monitoring, a bacterial bloom was identified when analysing different biopsies from the same mummies taken after a lapse of time of 1.5 years. Plant kingdom representation in all mummy datasets was unique and could be partially associated with their use in embalming materials. Finally, NGS data showed the presence of Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii DNA sequences, indicating malaria and toxoplasmosis in these mummies. We demonstrate that endogenous ancient DNA can be extracted from mummies and serve as a proper template for the NGS technique, thus, opening new pathways of investigation for future genome sequencing of ancient Egyptian individuals.

Concepts: DNA, Polymerase chain reaction, Molecular biology, Apicomplexa, DNA sequencing, Toxoplasmosis, Ancient Egypt, Mummy


Attributing a season and a date to the volcanic eruption of Santorini in the Aegean has become possible by using preserved remains of the bean weevil, Bruchus rufipes, pests of pulses, from the storage jars of the West House, in the Bronze Age settlement at Akrotiri. We have applied an improved pre-treatment methodology for dating the charred insects, and this provides a date of 1744-1538 BC. This date is within the range of others obtained from pulses from the same context and confirms the utility of chitin as a dating material. Based on the nature of the insect material and the life cycle of the species involved, we argue for a summer eruption, which took place after harvest, shortly after this material was transported into the West House storeroom.

Concepts: Insect, Ancient Egypt, Volcano, Minoan civilization, Bronze Age, Santorini, Cyclades, Mycenaean Greece


Paintings in ancient Egyptian tombs often suffer colour changes due to microbial growth and colonization. Streptomyces strains were isolated from mural paintings of Tell Basta and Tanis tombs (East of Nile Delta, Egypt) and were identified using biochemical and molecular methods. The16S rDNA sequences data indicated that isolated strains were closely related to S. coelicolor, S. albidofuscus, S. ambofaciens, S. canarius, S. parvullus, S. corchorusii, S. albidofuscus and S. nigrifaciens. It could be shown that Streptomyces strains are involved on a large scale in the colour changes of paintings and stone support by producing a wide range of metabolites such as acids (oxalic, citric and sulphuric acids), biopigments of melanin, carotenoids, and hydrogen sulphide.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Molecular biology, Metabolism, Sulfur, Hydrogen sulfide, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Nile Delta