King Tut: One Tangled Family Tree

Archaeologists investigating the famous pharaoh’s tomb confront the mystery of his missing stepmother—Nefertiti.

If the new investigations into King Tut’s tomb reveal hidden rooms, could those chambers hold the burial of Nefertiti, the long-lost queen who is doubly connected to the teenage pharaoh? If so, they might add one more mummy to his intriguingly interwoven family ties.


Ancient Egypt’s most famous pharaoh was the offspring of a union between siblings. Inbreeding may have afflicted him with a congenital clubfoot and even prevented him from producing an heir with his wife, who was probably his half sister.

More than a century of excavations in and around Egypt’s Valley of the Kings has revealed 64 tombs and other related chambers. The treasure-filled burial of King Tutankhamun, known now as KV62, is by far the most famous. But many other royal tombs and mummies from ancient Egypt’s 18th and 19th Dynasties have also come to light.


DNA results suggest that this mummy—made headless by vandals—could be the mother of at least one of the fetuses found in King Tut’s tomb. If so, she is likely Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Akhenaten, and the only known wife of Tutankhamun.


Amenhotep III ruled in splendor some 3,400 years ago. His body was found in 1898 hidden along with more than a dozen other royals in KV35, the tomb of his own grandfather, Amenhotep II.


DNA analysis has identified this regal beauty as Tiye, Amenhotep III’s wife and Tut’s grandmother. She was embalmed with her left arm bent across her chest, interpreted as a queen’s burial pose. Her hair remains intact thanks to Egypt’s arid climate.


This badly decayed mummy was discovered in 1907. Royal epithets on its defaced coffin suggested it might be Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh who forsook the gods of the state to worship a single deity. DNA confirmed the mummy to be Tut’s father.


According to DNA tests, this mummy, known as the Younger Lady, is both the full sister of Akhenaten and the mother of his son, Tutankhamun. The Younger Lady is probably one of the five known daughters of Amenhotep III and Tiye.

Beginning in 2007, Egyptian scientists conducted genetic tests on 16 royal mummies. The ones pictured here were identified as Tut’s near and dear—his grandparents, his parents, his wife, and two mummified fetuses who were found in his tomb and were most likely his daughters.


A fetus of at least seven months’ gestation (right) was found in Tut’s tomb along with a tinier, more fragile fetus. One or both may have been his daughters. Nested coffins (left) contained a lock of hair, perhaps from Tut’s grandmother Tiye.

But there’s one legendary royal mummy from this period who’s missing, and whose name pops up every time there’s a new discovery in this royal cemetery—the beautiful Queen Nefertiti. She was the principal wife of Akhenaten, Tut’s father. Tut’s mother was a different wife, whose name we don’t know. That makes Nefertiti Tut’s stepmother.

Tut’s family ties are further complicated by the royal custom of incest during this period. Tut married his half sister Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. And that makes Nefertiti his mother-in-law.

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