Monday, September 29, 2008

King Tut Had Twins, But Why?

Live Science (Meredith F. Small)

A rather different take on the Tutankhamun foetus story:

Two mummified fetuses found in Tutankhamen's tomb back in 1922 are probably twins, despite the fact that one is much larger than the other, a team of scientists recently announced.

King Tut has always held a fascination for the public, and the idea that the young pharaoh and his presumably beautiful wife, Ankhesenamen, the daughter of Nefertiti, had twins adds even more drama to the story.

The possibility of twins for Tut also underscores the fact that conceiving twins is a common human story. It's also one that begs for an explanation.

Humans are primates, which means that unlike mice, we don't have litters. Instead, we primates, that is lemurs, lorises, monkeys, apes and humans, typically give birth to offspring one at a time and then invest heavily in each baby .

This strategy of fewer but finer seems to work pretty well. Primates may not survive in great numbers, but we are a tenacious group that inhabits all sorts of environments and just keeps on going.

Clearly, the "all your eggs in one basket" is a reasonable way to pass on genes.

Of course, the path of evolution is never perfect, and there are some species of primates that have more than one offspring at a time. Tamarins, small monkeys in South America, usually have twins; mothers rely on fathers to help out.

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