Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1239, (26 March - 1 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Death of a pharaoh

Forensic studies indicate that the forgotten 13th-Dynasty Pharaoh Senebkay may have died a violent death, writes Nevine El-Aref

Death of a pharaoh
Death of a pharaoh
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Pharaoh Senebkay was one of the first kings of the 13th Dynasty, known as the “lost dynasty of Abydos,” a small town near the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag. His tomb was accidently found last year during excavation work by an American-Egyptian archaeological mission from the Penn Museum in South Abydos.

Although the tomb was robbed in antiquity, it still bears witness to the political and social history of Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period and the lost Abydos Dynasty.

According to tomb discoverer Josef Wegner, an associate curator at the Penn Museum, the discovery of the tomb confirms the existence of an independent “Abydos Dynasty.” According to Danish Egyptologist Kim Ryholt, this dynasty was contemporary with both the Kingdom of Thebes and the Hyksos Kingdom in the north of Egypt.

The discovery also identifies the location of the dynasty’s royal necropolis in South Abydos, in an area called “Anubis-Mountain” in ancient times. Royal burials were placed here adjacent to the tombs of earlier Middle Kingdom pharaohs.

“Senebkay’s name may have appeared in a broken section of the famous Turin King List,” said Wegner. The Turin King List is a papyrus document dating to the reign of Ramses II and now at the Turin Museum in Italy.

Wegner explained that two kings with the throne name Woseribre, the first name of the pharaoh, are recorded at the head of a group of more than a dozen kings, most of whose names are entirely lost.

The remains of the king were unearthed amidst the debris of his fragmentary coffin, funerary mask and canopic chests made of cedar wood that had been reused from the nearby tomb of Sobekhotep I and still bore the name of the earlier king and were covered in gilding.

“Using objects from the nearby Sobekhotep tomb shows the limited resources and isolated economic situation of the Abyos Kingdom, which lay in the southern part of Middle Egypt between the two larger Kingdoms of Thebes and the Hyksos in northern Egypt,” said Wegner.

He said that the pharaohs of the Abydos Dynasty were largely forgotten by history and their royal necropolis had been unknown until the discovery of Senebkay’s tomb.

Research and forensic analysis was carried out on the king’s skeleton after the discovery, revealing details of his life, the Abydos Dynasty and the Second Intermediate Period of which he was a part.

In a report published on the Penn Museum website, Wegner wrote that analysis carried out by Maria Rosado and Jane Hill of Rowan University indicates that Senebkay lived during the latter part of Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period and died between the age of 35 and 40 years during a vicious assault by multiple assailants.

“The king’s skeleton has 18 wounds penetrating to the bone, as well as vertical major cuts in his feet, ankles, knees, hands and lower back,” Wegner said. Three major blows were found on Senebkay’s skull, the result of the use of battle-axes. “This evidence indicates the king died violently during a military confrontation, or in an ambush,” he added.

The angle and direction of the wounds suggest that Senebkay was in a higher position than his assailants when they attacked him with axes. “He was possibly mounted on horseback, and blows to his back and legs caused him to fall to the ground where he was brutally struck on his head until death,” said Wegner, who added that the shape of the pharaoh’s pelvis indicated that he was a skilled horse rider.

“Another king’s body discovered this year in a tomb close to that of Senebkay also shows evidence of horse riding, suggesting that these Second Intermediate Period kings buried at Abydos were accomplished horsemen,” Wegner wrote. The use of horses in battle was not common until the Bronze Age.

Youssef Khalifa, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Culture, told the Weekly that it was not clear if Senebkay had died in battle against the Hyksos, occupying Lower Egypt at the time.

But if this was the case, it would make Senebkay the first warrior king to fight for Egypt’s liberation before Senakhtenre, the founder of the 17th Dynasty and grandfather of the pharaoh Ahmose, who defeated the Hyksos.

Wegner said Senebkay could have died in a battle against enemies in the south of Egypt. “Historical records dating to Senebkay’s lifetime record at least one attempted invasion of Upper Egypt by a large military force from Nubia to the south. Alternatively, Senebkay may have had other political opponents, possibly kings based at Thebes,” he said.

“Senebkay’s tomb and the discovery of seven royal neighbouring tombs shed light on an obscure period in the ancient Egyptian era,” Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told the Weekly, describing the discovery as “very important.”

He said that Senebkay and other Abydos Dynasty rulers seem to have formed a short-lived dynasty and had chosen Abydos as their capital and burial ground.

Excavations by Penn Museum researchers are now ongoing in collaboration with the National Geographic Society in order to reveal more about this little-known dynasty.

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