A team of scientists from the University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany have examined the genetic data of 93 Egyptian mummies, which date back to between 1400 BC and 400 BC. The study discovered surprising levels of affinity to ancient Near Eastern populations, including Armenians.
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.
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.
Additionally, the scholars found that during the time span which the mummies represent, the genetic profile of ancient Egyptians stayed unexpectedly stable despite foreign invasions.
“The genetics of the Abusir el-Meleq community did not undergo any major shifts during the 1,300-year timespan we studied, suggesting that the population remained, genetically, relatively unaffected by foreign conquest and rule,” said Wolfgang Haak from the Max Planck Institute.
The sub-Saharan African inflow of DNA has seemingly started after the Roman times, coinciding with the emergence of monotheism, particularly, in Islam. That could explain why modern Egyptians are genetically shifted more towards African populations compared to ancient Egyptians.
We found the ancient Egyptian samples falling distinct from modern Egyptians, and closer towards Near Eastern and European samples. In contrast, modern Egyptians are shifted towards sub-Saharan African populations.
So overall, modern Egyptians show more affinity with sub-Saharan Africans than ancient Egyptians do. On the other hand, ancient Egyptians are genetically more shifted towards Near Eastern and Levantine people, such as Armenians.
The paternal lineage of Tutankhamun
When the controversy over Tutankhamun’s paternal lineage started to fly around several years ago, a similar discovery was made. Egyptian scientists have tested the autosomal and Y-DNA markers of three 18th-dynasty Pharaohs – Amenhotep III, his son Akhenaten, and grandson Tutankhamun. The study was aimed at revealing the cause of the death of Tutankhamun who perished at the age of 19. However, the genetic data wasn’t opened to the public instantly. A documentary about this study filmed by the Discovery Channel aired some results of the study, perhaps by mistake.
The attentive observers from a genetics company iGENEA shortly discovered that the documentary features Y-STR results that appear to be R1b. While R1b is quite rare among modern Egyptian and Middle Eastern populations, it is common in Europe as well as among Armenians. However, these observations haven’t been taken seriously by academia as the results had never been officially published by the researchers.
However, looking back with this recent study in mind, one could conclude that the ancient Egyptians had been the descendants of Armenians or ancient Europeans, which is actually quite possible.
Ancient Europeans and modern Armenians
In fact, ancient Armenians and modern Armenians have a high level of genetic affinity, as demonstrated by the recent Haber et. al (2015) study. According to this study, present-day Armenians share a lot of common genes with both ancient Europeans and Egyptians. We have recently covered this connection.
The Hyksos invasion could be an explanation to the genetic affinity between Egyptians and Near Eastern and European people. Hyksos (Egyptian: heqa khaseshet, meaning “ruler(s) of the foreign countries”) had settled in the eastern Nile Delta before 1650 BC and seized control over Egypt. They were often depicted as skilled bowmen and cavalrymen wearing cloaks of many colors who had brought chariot warfare to ancient Egypt.
A number of theories have tried to explain their origins, including the theory of Hyksos’ Hurrian and Indo-European descent. In fact, Hyksos’ lifestyle closely resembles that of ancient Armeno-Aryan populations. For example, Hyksos practiced horse burials. Besides, their chief deity has been a god of storm who later began to be associated with Set, the Egyptian god of storm and desert. At the same time, ancient Armenians worshiped the god of storm Teshub/Teisheba, who would be later identified with Hayk and Aramazd.
Hyksos people also brought with them a number of technical and cultural innovations to Egypt, including musical instruments and foreign loanwords. They introduced new techniques of bronze working, pottery, new animal breeds, as well as new crops. As we already mentioned, they brought chariots, composite bows, improved battle axes, as well as better fortification methods. All these advancements suggest that Hyksos had had an Indo-European origin.
In his book “The Coming of the Greeks: Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and the Near East” (1994), Robert Drews describes Hyksos people:
Where the hyksos chiefs who took over Egypt ca. 1650 B.C. may have gotten their chariots and charioteers is not known, but eastern Anatolia is not an unlikely source. The most direct evidence for the importance of Armenia in the development and manufacture of military chariots in the Late Bronze Age comes from Egyptian tombs. Since Egypt lacked the necessary woods, one assumes that the pharaohs regularly purchased from abroad either finished chariots or-after Egyptian woodworkers had perfected their skills-the requisite chariot wood. A tomb inscription from the reign of Amenhotep II declares that the wood for His Majesty’s chariot was brought from “the country of Naharin” (Mitanni). Since Mitanni itself was not wooded, we may suppose that the material come from the mountains to the north of Mitanni. In the case of the fifteenth century chariot now in Florance’s Museo Archeologico, studies of the wood done more than fifty years ago concluded that the chariot was made in Armenia, or quite precisely in the mountainous area bounded on the east by the Caspian, and on the south and west by a diagonal line extending from the southern shores of the Caspian to the Black Sea coast in the vicinity of Trebizond. If Egypt was to some extent dependent upon eastern Anatolia for its chariotry during the Eighteenth Dynasty, there are grounds for suspecting that when the chariot warfare first came to Egypt, it came from Armenia.”
Egyptian artifacts unearthed in ancient Armenian burial grounds testify to the frequent contact between ancient Egyptians and Armenians. However, it is still unknown whether or not the Hyksos invasion explains the genetic affinity between ancient Egyptians and Near Eastern and Levantine peoples. Perhaps, this inflow of DNA extends further to the past.
It wouldn’t be surprising if it turned out that ancient Egyptians prospered after the invention and spread of agriculture from the Armenian Highlands and its surroundings. The over-millennium genetic continuity of Egyptians in its turn suggests that it may extend further back than the Hyksos invasion. Only older Egyptian DNA could shed some light on this mystery.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the 93 analyzed mummies have been discovered in the same place, Abusir el-Meleq. They could possibly represent merely the upper class of the ancient Egyptian society, or maybe a regional subgroup. On the other hand, because they belong to a time period of over one millennium, it would be quite reasonable to assume that they do indeed represent the most of ancient Egyptians’ DNA, the roots of which could have been in the Armenian Highlands.