Today’s Deformed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
The Egyptian government had long hesitated to let geneticists have at their most precious mummies. Boring into tissues or bones inevitably destroys small bits of them, and paleogenetics was pretty iffy at first. Only in 2007 did Egypt relent, allowing scientists to withdraw DNA from five generations of mummies, including pharoahs Tut and his daddy Akhenaten. When combined with meticulous CT scans of the corpses, this genetic work helped resolve some enigmas about the era’s art and politics.
First, the study turned up no major defects in Akhenaten or his family, which hints that the Egyptian royals looked like normal people. That means the portraits of Akhenaten – in which he looks other-worldly – were probably propaganda. Akhenaten apparently decided that his status as the sun god’s immortal son lifted him so far above the normal human rabble that he had to inhabit a new type of body in public portraiture.
All that said, the mummies did show subtler deformities, like clubbed feet and cleft palates. And each succeeding generation had more to endure. Tut, of the fourth generation, inherited both clubfoot and a cleft palate. He also broke his femur when young, like Toulouse-Lautrec, and bones in his foot died because of poor congenital blood supply. Scientists realized why Tut suffered so when they examined his genes. Certain DNA “stutters” (repetitive stretches of bases) get passed intact from parent to child, so they offer a way to trace lineages. Unfortunately for Tut, both his parents had the same stutters – because his mom and dad had the same parents. Nefertiti may have been Akhenaten’s most celebrated wife, but for the crucial business of producing an heir, Akhenaten turned to a sister.
This incest likely compromised Tut’s immune system and did the dynasty in. While working on Tut’s mummy, scientists found scads of malarial DNA deep inside his bones. Malaria wasn’t uncommon then, similar tests reveal that both of Tut’s grandparents had it, at least twice, and they both lived until their fifties. However, Tut’s malarial infection, the scientists argued, “added one strain too many to a body that” — because of incestuous genes — “could no longer carry the load.” He succumbed at age nineteen. Indeed, some strange brown splotches on the walls inside Tut’s tomb provide clues about just how sudden his decline was. DNA and chemical analysis has revealed these splotches as biological in origin: Tut’s death came so quickly that the decorative paint on the tomb’s inner walls hadn’t dried, and it attracted mold after his retinue sealed him up. Worst of all, Tut compounded his genetic defects for the next generation by taking a half sister as his own wife. Their only know children died at five months and seven months and ended up as sorry swaddled mummies in Tut’s’ tomb, macabre additions to his gold mask and walking sticks.
Culled from: The Violinist’s Thumb
Sideshow Freak Du Jour!
MADAME DEVERE: THE BEARDED LADY
When Jane Devere’s beard was measured in 1884 at fourteen inches it set a record that still stands. She was born in Brooksville, Kentucky, in 1842. When a beard sprouted on little Jane’s face, the Dime Museums beckoned and she set off on an exhibition career. She went out on the road in 1884 with Sells Brothers Circus and again in 1891. She joined the Sells’ Australian tour the following year. After the turn of the century she toured with Campbell Brothers’ Circus (1906) and the Yankee Robinson Show in 1908. In Chas. Eisenmann’s photograph she stands beside her husband Bill.