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Then the curtain falls. Ten years after ascending the throne, Tutankhamun is dead, leaving no heirs to succeed him. He is hastily buried in a small tomb, designed originally for a private person rather than a king. In a backlash against Akhenaten's heresy, his successors manage to delete from history nearly all traces of the Amarna kings, including Tutankhamun.

Ironically, this attempt to erase his memory preserved Tutankhamun for all time. Less than a century after his death, the location of his tomb had been forgotten. Hidden from robbers by structures built directly above, it remained virtually untouched until its discovery in 1922. More than 5,000 artifacts were found inside the tomb. But the archaeological record has so far failed to illuminate the young king's most intimate family relationships. Who were his mother and father? What became of his widow, Ankhesenamun? Are the two mummified fetuses found in his tomb King Tutankhamun's own prematurely born children, or tokens of purity to accompany him into the afterlife?

To answer these questions, we decided to analyze Tutankhamun's DNA, along with that of ten other mummies suspected to be members of his immediate family. In the past I had been against genetic studies of royal mummies. The chance of obtaining workable samples while avoiding contamination from modern DNA seemed too small to justify disturbing these sacred remains. But in 2008 several geneticists convinced me that the field had advanced far enough to give us a good chance of getting useful results. We set up two state-of-the-art DNA-sequencing labs, one in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the other at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. The research would be led by Egyptian scientists: Yehia Gad and Somaia Ismail from the National Research Center in Cairo. We also decided to carry out CT scans of all the mummies, under the direction of Ashraf Selim and Sahar Saleem of the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. Three international experts served as consultants: Carsten Pusch of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Germany; Albert Zink of the EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy; and Paul Gostner of the Central Hospital Bolzano.

The identities of four of the mummies were known. These included Tutankhamun himself, still in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and three mummies on display at the Egyptian Museum: Amenhotep III, and Yuya and Tuyu, the parents of Amenhotep III's great queen, Tiye. Among the unidentified mummies was a male found in a mysterious tomb in the Valley of the Kings known as KV55. Archaeological and textual evidence suggested this mummy was most likely Akhenaten or Smenkhkare.

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