King Senebkay of ‘Lost’ Abydos Dynasty Died in Battle

Forensic analysis of skeleton sheds light on death of King Senebkay


Recent analysis of King Senebkay’s skeleton determined that he died violently in battle. Senebkay was one of the earliest rulers of the long-lost Abydos Dynasty. Photo: Josef Wegner.

Last year, University of Pennsylvania archaeologists working with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities announced the discovery of the tomb of a previously unknown Egyptian pharaoh who ruled at Abydos some 3,600 years ago. Named Woseribre Senebkay, the pharaoh was one of the earliest kings of the long-forgotten Abydos Dynasty that reigned from c. 1650–1600 B.C.E. during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. Now, a study of the skeleton of King Senebkay has determined that he died violently in battle.

Archaeologist, Egyptologist and forensic anthropology professor Jane Hill and paleopathologist Maria Rosado, both of Rowan University, conducted a full forensic analysis on King Senebkay’s skeleton. The researchers found that Senebkay, who was between 35 and 40 years old at the time of his death, suffered severe trauma to his lower body, hands and head. There were in all 18 wounds from at least two different types of weapons that penetrated his bones. The pharaoh was likely elevated on a horse or in a chariot when his assailants attacked him, given the angle and direction of his injuries.

“Taphonomic examination of the skeleton also indicated that Senebkay’s body was not mummified for some time after his death, indicating that he did not die in a time or place where his body could be properly treated for burial right away,” Hill told Bible History Daily.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.


Marked here are axe wounds in the skull of King Senebkay. Photo: Josef Wegner.

It was commonly understood that during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650–1550 B.C.E.), the Canaanite Hyksos ruled from Avaris in the Nile Delta and warred with the Egyptians who ruled from Thebes in Upper (southern) Egypt. Around 1550, Pharaoh Ahmose I led the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt, reunified the Egyptian land and established the Eighteenth Dynasty—ushering in the New Kingdom period. The discovery of King Senebkay’s tomb in a royal necropolis at South Abydos demonstrates that there was another dynasty—the short-lived Abydos Dynasty—contemporary to the Hyksos and Theban rulers, thus altering our understanding of the political and social landscape of Egypt in the 17th and 16th centuries.

“Given the time during which the Abydos Dynasty ruled in its region of Egypt, the possibility of warfare is very likely,” Hill explained. “It is impossible to say whether King Senebkay was killed in battle against the Hyksos to the north or the Thebans to the south. However, it is interesting to note that the rulers of Middle Egypt were as involved in the struggle for dominion over their territories as we know from the historical records that the Thebans were during this period.”

Josef Wegner, associate professor of Egyptian archaeology at Penn and associate curator of the Egyptian section at the Penn Museum, directs the Penn team at South Abydos. The Penn excavation is part of the combined Pennsylvania-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts, New York University Expedition to Abydos.

“At present, Senebkay’s tomb is one of eight kings’ tombs dating to the Second Intermediate Period in the royal necropolis at Abydos,” Wegner told Bible History Daily. “Continued excavations at Abydos will shed further light on this group of kings.”

Read more about the analysis of King Senebkay’s skeleton in a Penn Museum press release.

Learn more about the excavations at Abydos in Expedition magazine.


Learn more about ancient Egypt in Bible History Daily:

The Expulsion of the Hyksos
Severed Hands: Trophies of War in New Kingdom Egypt
Examining the Lives of Ancient Egyptian Women by Melinda Nelson-Hurst
Epilepsy, Tutankhamun and Monotheism
Unraveling Mummy Mysteries at Tulane
Chapel of King Nectanebo I Uncovered in Ancient Heliopolis
Cats in Ancient Egypt


4 Responses

  1. michael greathouse says:

    Article and thank you for the good work.

  2. michael greathouse says:

    Remarkable story, I enjoy the depth of the

  3. Danny Adams says:

    Or the Julius Caesar treatment. Maybe he wasn’t mummified right away because doing so would have been dangerous for his adherents?

  4. Elena says:

    Looks and sounds as if he got the Richard III treatment!

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend