The Blogroll Roundup: Critiquing the JAMA Article

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: New Kingdom, Egypt in the News, Mummies

So much for the evil god Set keeping his mouth shut—people just seem to insist on questioning authority.  The JAMA article is jammed with answers, but queries continue.  Assembled here for your pleasure and edification are the best examples of critical questioning culled from the Egyptological blogosphere.    

Tangled roots, the passed-over prince, aging them bones, lack of control, and Kate Phizackerley’s Quest for Accuracy.


Mark Rose, the online editor for the Archaeological Institute of America and co-writer (with Heather Pringle) of Archaeology Magazine’s blog, Beyond Stone and Bone, was one of the first to look a bit askance at the media coverage of the new analysis of Tutankhamun.  “I suspect they are overdoing it a bit,” he said with regard to their characterization of the Boy King as a frail young man (“Tut: Disease and DNA News”).

Mark was also fast out of the gate to call attention to the age problem with the mummified skeleton from KV55 that was identified by the JAMA article as Akhenaten.  Initial analysis of the mummy based on dental and skeletal analysis suggested a time-of-death in the early 20’s, whereas Akhenaten is believed to have lived into his 30’s. 

In making the attribution of Akhenaten to KV55, the JAMA report simply says:

The mummy in KV55 was previously thought to be in his 20s when he died.  However, our new computed tomography investigation revealed that he lived to be much older.  (JAMA, Table 1, footnote b, p. 640).

In “Time for the Great Pyramid”, Mr. Rose states that he is working on a piece about the results of the JAMA study, set to run in the May/June issue of Archaeology Magazine.  He hopes to get some answers regarding questions he (and we) has about the DNA analysis and CT scan/tomography.

Mark was also kind enough to offer in the Comments section to take his readers’ questions to Dr. Carsten Pusch when he interviews him.  In particular, he stated that he has been following Kate Phizackerley’s articles (below) very closely and will present some of her questions to Pusch. 

Incidentally, I have passed on some of your questions, Gentle Readers, as well as a few of my own.  Mark’s offer in effect places us just one handshake away from one of the primaries of the JAMA article.  Behold the power of the Internet!


Kate Phizackerley, of News from the Valley of the Kings, began her own contribution practically before the ink on the JAMA report was dry.  Beginning with the question of how accurately geneticists can generalize from the data, given the incest issue, Kate went on to pen the first published scholarly critique of the study’s conclusions.

Kate’s work has become the nerve center of the critical analysis of the JAMA study on the Egyptological blogosphere.  Much of it has already been linked from Em Hotep, but for the sake of this compendium I have assembled all of her relevant articles to date:


Mummies expert Dylan Bickerstaffe has also referenced Kate’s work on the blog section of his website, Exploring Ancient Lands.  In “HAVE THE DNA TESTS PROVED AKHENATEN WAS TUTANKHAMUN’S FATHER? Or have they told us something else?” Dylan raises a brow over the methodology of the study as it was detailed in JAMA.  He is especially concerned over why the study was not conducted blind, as is typically done to prevent the researchers’ expectations from biasing their conclusions. 

Dylan also questions why the control group was so small, and why mummies from other periods were not included to help monitor accuracy.  As he puts it, “Thus if Tutankhamun turns out to be descended from a Ptolemaic mummy, you know you have a problem!”  And then there is the matter of why KV21A and KV21B were in the study rather than the control group.


Speaking of inclusions and exclusions, Tim Reid of The Egyptians wonders why the mummy of a young boy from KV35 was not included in the study at all.  In “The Forgotten Boy,” Tim points out that there are good reasons to suspect that the mummy could be that of Prince Webensenu, a son of Amenhotep II.  The article details some of the adventures and misadventures of the occupants of KV35, and includes some informed speculation about the identity of Smenkhkare, a name that continues to haunt the JAMA study in various and sundry ways.


And while not a blog, Egyptian Dreams is an Egyptology forum with very knowledgeable moderators and participants.  For a number of excellent threads on the JAMA study check out the Evidence from Amarna section.  Some of the threads you will want to explore include:


Copyright by Keith Payne, 2010.  All rights reserved.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 at 6:13 pm and is filed under New Kingdom, Egypt in the News, Mummies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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