New DNA sequencing technology is giving us a first glimpse at what ancient men looked like — before they were mummies.
Using DNA extracted from the mummified bones of three Egyptian males who lived more than 2,000 years ago, genetic experts created extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional representations of their features.
The computer reconstructions portray the males at the age of 25, who were discovered near the ancient Egyptian city of Abusir el-Meleq, south of Cairo. According to Live Science, scientists believe the men were buried between 1380 B.C. and A.D. 425. Their DNA was previously sequenced in 2017 at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, which was the first successful reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy’s genome in history at the time.
Since then, researchers at Reston, Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs have utilised forensic DNA phenotyping to generate 3D models of the men’s faces, a procedure in which genetic data is used to predict facial traits and other physical characteristics of the sampled mummy.
“This is the first time thorough DNA phenotyping on human DNA of this age has been performed,” Parabon stated in a statement.
To rebuild the faces, the scientists used a mix of techniques. Some characteristics, such as skin and eye colour, can be predicted using genetic markers in the individual’s genome, whilst others can be quantified using what’s left of their physical remains.
According to Parabon’s methodology, the men had light brown skin with dark eyes and hair, and they were more genetically close to modern-day Mediterranean populations than to Egyptians.
Their method required to take into consideration the fact that human DNA degrades over time and is likely to be contaminated by bacterial DNA. Researchers in this example exploit genetic similarities between human populations to fill in the gaps in their mummy genome.
Researchers believe that this method could one day be utilised in modern forensics to identify more recent remains of unknown individuals.
According to Live Science, Parabon’s expertise in genetics has already been used to solve 175 cold cases, nine of which were solved using the methodology detailed in the current study.