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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

this year.

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

Chicago suburbs.

“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

in

The Tut Clone Contracts,

including

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,

is

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.