WINTER 2014 7
Professor of Psychology Jan
Berkhout, Ph.D., has written numerous
professional and technical publications
in his nearly 50 years working in
human factors psychology and related
disciplines, with 41 of those years at
the University of South Dakota. It was
his wide-ranging interests, as well as his
extensive life experiences and travels,
however, that inspired his first novel,
The Tut Clone Contracts.
“The idea was to clone an Egyptian
pharaoh numerous times and see what
kind of people they became,” Berkhout
said of his book, which was published
The story starts in 2020, when
researchers at the Oriental Institute at
the University of Chicago take genetic
material from the remains of King Tut, the boy king of ancient
Egypt, and fertilize human eggs. After implanting these eggs into
the wombs of women at a fertility clinic, the researchers plan to
monitor the young Tut clones as they grow up in the northern
“It’s a nature versus nurture experiment,” Berkhout said.
“The Tuts grow up in different households and environments.”
This being a sci-fi adventure story, the researchers’ plan goes
awry, of course, and the young Tuts grow to realize who they
are and how they came to be. Through the lives of the clones,
Berkhout explores issues related to gender and sexuality, politics
and religious extremism, and the question that most concerned
him: whether the clones’ genetic makeup or their environment
and upbringing had more of an effect on
the Tuts’ personalities. His conclusion?
“It’s a mixture,” Berkhout said. “The
Tuts are different from other people in
that they naturally fit into running things.
That’s probably part of their nature.”
They all follow different career and
life paths, however. These range from
a musician and acoustics engineer to a
biological researcher at a seed company,
the latter of which is also a job that
Berkhout holds during summer breaks
from the university.
Berkhout inserts a variety of details
from his travels, professional experience
and personal interests into the book.
He has visited every place mentioned
The Tut Clone Contracts,
a remote village in Guatemala, and
the authenticity of his technical and scientific descriptions owes
much to his academic degrees in biopsychology, physiology,
psychophysics, economics and history.
The University of South Dakota also plays a small, but
important, part in the book. An Egyptian mummy, not dissimilar
to the one currently residing in the W. H. Over Museum on
the Vermillion campus, appears in the first chapter of the
book. While exploring the DNA of this “plebian” mummy, the
researchers muse about the possibility of cloning a great pharaoh.
Berkhout said he is fond of all of his Tut clones, who grow
into intelligent leaders who gather as a group to take over a
country by the book’s end. A sequel,
The Empire of the Nile,
currently in the works.
Berkhout’s Debut Novel Imagines King Tut Reborn
Professor of Psychology Jan Berkhout drew on his own
experiences to create the science fiction world of
The Tut Clone Contracts.