Forensic analysis of skeleton sheds light on death of King Senebkay
In 2014, 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. A 2015 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.
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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.
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