Scientists from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have solved a century-old mystery after using forensic DNA evidence to discover the identity of a 4,000-year-old head from ancient Egypt.
In 1915, American archaeologists recovered a mummified severed head from a hidden tomb while excavating an ancient necropolis in Egypt’s Deir el-Bersha.
The head was found on top of a cedar coffin inside a tomb at a limestone chamber, which looked like it had been looted in old times, a report by The New York Times said.
Scientists found that the tomb belonged to an Egyptian Middle Kingdom governor named Djehutynakht and his wife. But the mystery question was, to who did the severed head belong to?
For more than a hundred years, researchers were unable to identify if the torso was of Djehutynakht or his wife.
Reports mentioned that the head had been altered during the mummification process, with several bones removed from the jaw and cheek, making it impossible to identify the sex of the remains through anatomical methods.
Researchers also spent years trying to extract DNA from the tooth but to no avail.
This is when a team of FBI forensic researchers were called in to unveil the identity of the head using DNA analysis.
While it may sound as a reasonable form of evidence, extracting DNA from ancient Egyptian mummies has always posed a challenge because the remains in hot desert environments for centuries which degrades the DNA.
But the FBI, which had never worked on a specimen as old, made a remarkable achievement by managing to extract genetic material, then mix it with a liquid that amplifies the amount of DNA, to make it easier for examination.
Odile Loreille, the FBI scientist who led the investigation, declared that the head belongs to Djehutynakht.
“I honestly didn’t expect it to work because at the time there was this belief that it was not possible to get DNA from ancient Egyptian remains,” Odile Loreille, a forensic scientist at the FBI, told The New York Times.
In the Genes journal released in March, Loreille and her colleagues reported that they had retrieved ancient DNA from the head, solving the mystery of the mummy’s identity after more than a century.