Unveiling the Halloween Monster DNA in Everyone

A view of Ramses II’s mummy in the Cairo Museum. O. Louis Mazzatenta/National Geographic Creative

Some Halloween fans take costuming to a whole other level. The wig will be just right, the make-up impeccable, the voice adjusted, and the costume scarily realistic. But even for these semi-pros, something is always missing. For all the external adornments, they will never really become the character without the real monster stuff; without the monster mojo inside; without monster DNA.

But is it possible that they or you do indeed carry this monster DNA?

This Halloween, the Genographic Project explores our creepier potential ancestors, and estimates both the paternal (Y-Chromosome) and maternal (mitochondrial) haplogroup, or ancestral clan, for the Mummy, Dracula, and the Frankenstein creature, and gives you clues to see if there are more than just skeletons in your closet…

Under Wraps

The Mummy on which the 1930s movie is loosely based was that of Imhotep, “a Pharaoh’s doctor” that lived in northern Egypt 4,600 years ago. Studies on ancient Egyptian DNA would suggest that his father’s father’s father’s (etc.) line was likely part of haplogroups E1b1b or J1 (watch a video explaining haplogroups and more). Both of these are still common in northern Africa. His maternal haplogroup was most likely Mediterranean, like H or U. However, it could also have been the less common, ancient Afro-Asiatic haplogroup M1. We guess the Mummy was haplogroup E1b1b and M1, from dad’s and mom’s side, respectively.

Is There a Count in Your Family?

To understand Count Dracula’s DNA we travel to Transylvania, in modern Rumania. Literary historians have suggested that fictional Dracula is based on the real Vlad the Impaler, a historical figure from the 15th century who lived in Wallachia just south of Transylvania. Anthropological studies on Wallachian and modern Rumanian populations, including Genographic’s own 2012 study into Wallachian kings and their genetic lineages, suggest that haplogroup I2 is the most common paternal group there (~40%). Throughout Eastern Europe, haplogroup H dominates the maternal lineages. Dracula was likeliest paternal haplogroup I2 and maternal haplogroup H. With so many potential relatives the undead count may live-on yet.

Putting the Pieces Together

The story with Frankenstein’s monster is more complicated, since the creature was a composite of several people’s body parts. (He was also of course entirely fictional. But we’ll let that slide.) Putting aside the multiple haplogroup ancestry, we’ll play the numbers game again. The story takes place in nineteenth century Geneva, Switzerland, which was likely similar in haplogroup composition to most of central Europe today. Thus the monster (and Dr. Frankenstein himself) would most likely have been paternal haplogroup R1b, although I2 and G2 are also commonly found in modern Swiss populations. Maternally, he was most likely an H. Our best guess is that the monster was an R1b paternally, and an H maternally.

So, now that you know the genetic legacy of these Halloween favorites, don’t be so quick to dismiss the toilet-paper-wrapped party-goer nearest you as just a pretender. He may just be hiding some very deep secrets inside…


Learn More

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Meet the Author
Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic's Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.