A Real Game of Thrones

July 31, 2015

By Medical Discovery News

The mummies of ancient Egypt have given science much insight into their lives and deaths. Just a year ago they unearthed an unknown pharaoh from a dynasty whose existence historians had only speculated. Although ancient tomb robbers had torn his mummy apart, modern archeologists have cataloged the 18 blows he suffered in battle that led to his death over 3,600 years ago.

An expedition led by archeologist Josef Wegner from the University of Pennsylvania at Abydos in Sohang Province (about 300 miles south of Cairo) discovered the tomb of Woseribre Senebkay, who lived from about 1650-1600 BC, and was probably one of the first kings of a dynasty in Abydos. The tomb consisted of four chambers, which was modest for a pharaoh, and a burial chamber made of limestone with the goddesses Nut, Nephthys, Selket, and Isis painted on the walls. The discovery confirms the existence of a separate dynasty in Abydos, which was suggested by Egyptologist K. Ryholt in 1997. It also identifies the necropolis as a site called Anubis Mountain.

Nearby, archeologists discovered another royal tomb belonging to Sobekhotep I of the 13th dynasty, who died around 1780 BC. Interestingly, Senebkay’s canopic chest, which housed jars of internal organs, was reused from this earlier king and still bore his name covered over by gilding. A 16-ton sarcophagus made of rose quartzite was also reused from an earlier era, suggesting that this dynasty had limited resources and faced pressure from larger kingdoms surrounding it: Thebes to the north and Hyksos to the south.

Archeologists were able to recover the pieces of Senebkay, reassemble his skeleton, and perform a full forensic analysis. He was about 5’10” tall and died in his 40s. He suffered 18 wounds that penetrated to the bone, including large cuts to his feet, ankles, and lower back. There were multiple skull injuries that were similar to the size and curvature of Egyptian battle axes. The scientists theorize that the pharaoh was either mounted on horseback or in a chariot when the attack occurred, so to bring him to ground his numerous assailants slashed at his legs, feet and back. Then they killed him with blows to the head.

The use of horses in battle was not common until after 1200 BC, some 350 years later, but it is thought the Egyptians might have begun using them much earlier. Indeed, examination of Senebkay’s legs and pelvis showed signs that he spent much of his time on horseback. It also appears that he was killed far from his home as his mummification happened long after his death.

What we don’t know is who killed him, whether he was battling against Hyksos rulers, Thebans, or some other group. This was a time when the central authority of Egypt collapsed, dividing the nation into many small kingdoms. However, his tomb has brought to light more of the history of these ancient people. Who knows what’s left to find, buried in the sands of Egypt.

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