February 26, 2015

Forensics: Egyptian king was brutally killed in battle

Brett Smith for - @ParkstBrett

Sometimes, it isn’t so good to be king.

Pharaoh Senebkay, from Ancient Egypt’s forgotten Abydos Dynasty, was viciously killed in battle over 3,600 years ago--probably being cut down from his horse or chariot, according to a new forensic study.

[STORY: Archaeologists unearth previously unknown pharaoh in Egypt]

The pharaoh, whose full name was Woseribre Senebkay, was unknown until last year, when a University of Pennsylvania team led by archaeologist Josef Wegner, and working together with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, discovered his remains in a tomb approximately 300 miles south of Cairo.

The tomb had long since been ransacked by raiders, but ancient texts left behind described Senebkay as the “king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Woseribre, the son of Re, Senebkay.”

Battle axes to the skull

In addition to recovering the texts, which were dated to around 1,650 BC, the joint team was able to piece together the pharaoh’s skeleton, which had been torn apart by the crypt invaders. A forensic analysis revealed details about the ancient king’s life and death.

“The work confirms the earlier estimates of the king’s height at 1.72 to 1.82 m (5’9″ to 6 feet), but indicates that he died at an earlier age, 35-40 years, than initially thought,” Wegner said in a statement.

[VIDEO: Upward sword thrust through neck, skull killed Richard III]

The analysis also revealed that Senebkay suffered a massive amount of trauma around the time of his death.

“The king’s skeleton has 18 wounds that penetrated to the bone,” Wegner said. “The trauma includes major cuts to his feet, ankles, and lower back. Multiple blows to Senebkay’s skull show the distinctive size and curvature of battle axes used during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period.”

Ankle biters

Researchers who conducted the analysis also concluded, based on the wounds; Senebkay was struck down from below, probably while riding a horse or chariot. They added that the evidence in the king’s pelvic bones suggest he probably spent a lot of time of horses.

“His assailants first cut his lower back, ankles and feet to bring him to the ground and then finished him with axe blows to the skull,” Wegner said.

While horseback riding had not completely entered warfare elsewhere, the Egyptians seem to have been mastering the use of horses at that time.

[VIDEO: Horse and baboons are close friends]

“Horseback riding may have played a growing role in military movements during this era even before the full advent of chariot technology in Egypt,” Wegner said.

The team also concluded that Senebkay was most likely killed far from home as his remains indicated a long period between his death and mummification.

The Abydos Dynasty

Senebkay belongs to the relatively short Abydos Dynasty, which lasted from about 1650 to 1600 BC. After the dynasty collapsed, several smaller kingdoms arose in its place. Senebkay’s kingdom rivaled the Hyksos rulers of the Nile Delta and the two nations most likely clashed with some regularity.

“It remains unclear whether he died in battle against the Hyksos kings who then ruled northern Egypt, or possibly enemies in the south,” Wegner said.

[STORY: Why Egyptians used multiple coffins]

The Pennsylvania archeologist added that the discovery of Senebkay could lead to finding more pharaohs from this mysterious time period and filling in some knowledge gaps about Ancient Egypt.


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