King Tut's Parents Were What?

Tut-Anch-Amon - Outer coffin

Some 3000 years after his death, King Tut is finally airing his dirty laundry.  New DNA evidence suggests that Tutankhamen's parents were actually brother and sister.

The fascinating tale of the experiments that proved this, along with a detailed family tree of Tut can be found on National Geographic's website.

But equally interesting to the main article is a sidebar by my friend and colleague, David Dobbs, where he takes on a rather uneasy subject by discussing the fact that royal incest, well, was often considered normal.

Throughout time, royals married within their family for financial, political, and even spiritual reasons:

If the royals knew of these potential downsides, they chose to ignore them. According to Stanford University classics professor Walter Scheidel, one reason is that "incest sets them apart." Royal incest occurs mainly in societies where rulers have tremendous power and no peers, except the gods. Since gods marry each other, so should royals.

At the time, these people more than likely didn't know the drastic health consequences that arise in offspring from closely-matched genetic mates.   So rather than judge King Tut, maybe we should simply recognize him for what he was: the product of an elite, socially-isolated royal environment.  After all, as Dobbs points out, traces of royal incest can be found throughout time and across the globe, from Inca Peru to the Hawaiian Island kingdoms.

photo: via Flickr @malavoda