Monday, October 26, 2009

Scientists Pull an Ancient Tooth for DNA

Originally published October 19, 2009 | The Boston Globe | by Carolyn Y. Johnson

A tooth was removed from the head of a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, as the first step in an effort to extract DNA from its pulp. I wonder if they got permission from Zahi Hawass to proceed with this procedure. Usually everything has to go through him first. Me, I'm not one for DNA testing...too much..only because there's only so much of a mummy left, particularly this one, having had several other bits of it extracted and scraped off. Is it really necessary for this testing to be done on this mummy? What sort of revolutionary information will they...ahem...extract from the future results? Certainly, the mystery of this mummy won't be nearly as eye-opening as that of Tutankhamun's mummy. Perhaps it will, but that's a big "maybe."

The section of this article describing the loose jaw is most interesting only because the observations are ones I've never heard before: the ancients may have actually performed the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony rather than executed it metaphorically. I highly doubt it, much like the academics (but they are, after all academics like me, possibly having no experience in the field). They have in their favor other instances where loosened jaws on mummies is commonplace, having to do with the mummification process and rigor mortis. Most of these mummies are the "screaming" kind and have neither suffered a violent death nor experienced an actual opening of their mouths during the ceremony dedicated to doing this metaphorically.

No matter which way you slice it, we shall see what we shall see. Hopefully the extraction of the tooth will not have been for naught.

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