Scientists pull an ancient mummy's tooth for DNA, clues

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It was the oddest of scenes: A neurosurgeon delicately threaded a scope up the neck and into the skull of a disembodied, 4,000-year-old mummified head. Sweating with concentration, another doctor clamped a molar and began to rock it gently back and forth.

Three hours later, the nerve-wracking operation yielded a tooth, a time capsule holding precious DNA, which might reveal the identity of the ancient Egyptian head.

The surgical team - doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital and curators and conservation specialists from the Museum of Fine Arts - was assembled recently in an attempt to solve this longstanding ancient art mystery.

The question arose after the 1915 excavation of a tomb in a necropolis 186 miles south of Cairo. Robbers had disturbed the tomb, which belonged to Governor and Lady Djehutynakht, who ruled the district of Hermopolis in about 2000 BC. They left behind a torso, scattered mummy wrappings, fine examples of Egyptian art, objects for the afterlife, and the head.

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