At the request of the Ulster Museum The University of Manchester’s KNH Centre has performed an analysis of mitochondrial and exomic genome on a mummy known as Takabuti , from the 25th Dynasty (carbon dated to ~660 BCE)

These are ongoing but one of the key findings to date has been to show that Takabuti has the H4a1 mitochondrial DNA haplogroup (a haplogroup defines a group of genetic variants held by people who share a common ancestor. Mitochondrial defines the ancestry on the maternal side).

When considering this haplogroup and its implications, particularly for lineage tracing, it can be thought of as having 3 parts each more specific in terms of lineage than the former. They are “H”; “H4”; and “H4a1”.

The H haplogroup

The H haplogroup is believed to have developed in West Asia[1] about 20 millennia ago. Today about 45% of native Europeans have the H haplogroup the proportion decreasing as you travel southeast with a frequency of about 20% in Egypt [2] , the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean, and the southern Caucasus dropping to less than 10% in the Arabian Peninsula, the “Stans”of Central Asia and North India. [1,3]

The H4 subhaplogroup

Studies of modern populations: The H4 subhaplogroup, often in conjunction with the closely aligned haplogroups H7 and H13 are found in Europe and the broad group of countries that constitute western Asia. The H4 subhapologroup is relatively rare, is most common in the very west of Europe (Iberia, and the British Isles [4]).

H4 (together with related subhaplogroups) account for about 40% of the population carrying the H haplogroup in Egypt.[5] (i.e. about 8% of the modern population have the H4 haplogroup)

Studies of ancient populations: In an analysis of 16 Lebanese samples ranging in age from the 2nd to the 18th centuries BCE and 12 from the 5th/6th centuries BCE from Sardinia [7] and 21 samples from Sardinia from 4170-859 BCE [11] no evidence of any H4 subgroup was identified.

The H4a1 subhaplogroup

Studies of modern populations: The H4a1 subhaplogroup was identified in 15 of 750 samples from modern Andalusians [6] and 1 of 87 modern Lebanese [7] as well as relatively recent archaeological samples dating from the 6th to the 14th century CE in the Canary Islands [8]

Studies of ancient populations: In an analysis of 37 individuals from Mittelelbe-Saale (2500-1575 BCE), together with 2 samples from northern Italy [9], and 41 samples tested from “early bronze age (2000-1500 BCE) ” Bulgaria [10], three (2 from Germany and 1 from Bulgaria) demonstrated the H4a1 subhaplogroup.

The German samples have been described as coming from Bell Beaker and Unetice populations.

What does this discovery tell us about ancient Egyptian populations?

In their article in Nature Communications [10] Brotherton et al discuss the implications of finding the H4 haplogroup on understanding the movement of populations in the late Neolithic/early bronze age. Matisoo-Smith et al, use haplogroup distribution to discuss population movements caused by Phoenician trade.

The occurrence of such a rare haplogroup in ancient Egypt adds to our existing knowledge of mitochondrial haplogroups in ancient Egyptian populations and shows the importance of undertaking single case studies