King Tut Unwrapped – Tutankhamun Mummy Forensics to Air on Discovery Channel

King Tut Unwrapped - DNA samplingWhen I wrote that it was most likely we’d see more conlusive information on King Tut’s pedigree on TV first, I obviously was wrong, partly. Spoiler alert:yes, King Tut died at age 19 of (in order) a failing immune system, a leg fracture and malaria, but for the the fine details, and juicy imagery, you’ll need to tune in to Discovery Channel’s ‘King Tut Unwrapped’. The network – which sponsored Egypt’s ‘mummy lab’ – promises us an unprecedented forensic investigation into the life and times of King Tut that reveals the identity of Tut’s parents and grandparents, details on his cause of death and new details of his reign. Here are some more reasons to definitely watch the show.

The life and death of King Tut continues to hold a special power and mystery for people all over the world,” said Clark Bunting, president and general manager, Discovery Channel. I would never dare disagree, and like to add that his afterlife seems to be working out pretty well! 😉

King Tut’s family tree

The road to understanding the Tut tree (18th Dynasty) begins with filling out his parents’ branches. Based on historical records and previous digs, Dr. Hawass determined King Tut’s father could be one of three great Egyptian pharaohs: the successful and popular second ninth king of the 18th Dynasty Amenhotep III; the radical and controversial Akhenaton aka ‘The Heretic King’, who moved Egypt into the age of monotheism, or the little-known Smenkhare who reigned just prior to Tutankhamun’s rule.

When Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered King Tut’s tomb, who could have forseen that almost a century later KV62 would be the site for the cutting edge of forensic Egyptology? To effectively solve the mystery of Tut’s parentage, the team needs to test Tut’s DNA and compare this to his possible family members. Carefully, to avoid contamination, some bone marrow is extracted from the mummified leg. This first-ever DNA extraction from Tut’s mummy sets into motion a series of cross-reference studies to identify the Boy King’s family.

Specimens now abound for testing, but the expert team assembled at Discovery Channel’s DNA lab at the Cairo Museum faces challenge upon challenge in connecting the forensic dots. In order to test the ancient DNA, Dr. Carsten M. Pusch and Professor Albert Zink work with Dr. Yehia Zakaria Gad of the Department of Medical Molecular Genetics at Cairo’s National Research Center to perform, for the first time, microsatellite-based DNA-fingerprinting on familial Egyptian mummies.

There is triumph in the lab but that is only the start of the Tut family odyssey. With successful DNA sequencing of Tut’s father (Akhenaten, for those not following the news), Hawass is able to pursue leads that will eventually point to confirming the mummy of King Tut’s mother as well as identifying his great-grandparents Yuya and Thuya.

Tutankhamun died of…

Part two of ‘King Tut Unwrapped’ uses never-before-examined evidence from Tut’s mummy to conclude what caused his death and how that information sheds new light on his reign as a military, religious and political leader. Results from the DNAresearch and CT-scans reveal that the young pharoah suffered from various maladies and diseases, a combination of which eventually caused his demise.

Of course, no Ancient Egypt documentary would be complete without Egyptology superstar Dr. Zahi Hawass playing a leading role. From the pristine interiors and precision work of the DNA lab to dusty, unpredictable dig sites in the field, Dr. Hawass takes the viewer on an intense, deeply personal journey for the truth.

“Discovery is honoured once again to work with Dr. Zahi Hawass. Dr. Hawass’ trailblazing leadership has successfully fused traditional, methodical archeology with cutting-edge, advanced forensics. This is a new chapter in Egyptology firmly establishing Cairo as a center for innovation and scholarship,” said Clark Bunting. I wonder, did the Curse of the Mummy affect the high-tech equipment again? 😉

King Tut Unwrapped‘ premires Sunday, February 21 at 8pm ET in the US. Part two is on Monday, February 22 at 8pm ET. For your ‘local air dates’, check out our publication entry, or For the UK, that’s March 3th & 4th 2010.