Was Pharaoh Akhenaten so Cruel that he Forced Children to Build his City of Amarna?
A recent investigation of Amarna’s cemeteries in Egypt has revealed new evidence that clearly shows that a “disposable” working staff was mainly composed of children and teenagers. Experts now suggest that those children provided much of the work for the city’s construction under cruel conditions.
Massive Tomb Discovered in Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten’s City
As The Guardian reports , a team of archaeologists led by Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University studied and examined the remains of 105 individuals whose skeletons were unearthed from the North Tombs Cemetery at Amarna, the ancient city that wasn’t destined to last for too long as it was built by the ‘heretic pharaoh’ Akhenaten.
Amenhotep IV, also known as the Pharaoh Akhenaten, was destined to be remembered for his attempt at a religious conversion of ancient Egypt; one that saw the old gods put aside and replaced by a single god, the Aten.
Akhenaten took on the might of the priesthood of Amun-Ra, and enforced by the military, temples were closed and the names of the gods were removed from statues and inscriptions the length and breadth of the land. Akhenaten and his family were more concerned with their new religion, and left the empire unprotected and weakened – led by an ineffectual king more interested in poetry and nature rather than ruling. Statues and inscriptions depict Akhenaten and his family with long thin necks, sloping foreheads and elongated skulls, and this has led to claims – as a previous Ancient Origins article reports – that the king suffered from various disorders. His “legacy” remains to this day as one of the most controversial in Egyptian history.
Pharaoh Akhenaten (center) and his family worshiping the Aten, with characteristic rays seen emanating from the solar disk. ( Public Domain )
Study of the Burials Reveals Information About Amarna’s Lower Social Classes
Inevitably, when Akhenaten died in 1332 BC, Egypt’s ancient religion was restored under his successor Tutankhamun and the heretical city of Amarna was abandoned and forgotten. The entire cemetery, which is located near an ancient stone quarry, could contain thousands of burials. Recent exploration at the site that has mainly focused on Amarna’s cemeteries, the city’s humble desert graves, has revealed a lot of previously unknown information about the everyday people who lived and worked in Akhenaten’s city and died with it.
The site of Amarna viewed from the desert cliffs to the north of the city. Photograph: Mary Shepperson/Courtesy of The Amarna Project
As The Guardian reports , from 2006 to 2013 the Amarna Project excavation, which aimed to unearth four hundred individuals from an immense cemetery behind the South Tombs cliffs, roughly calculated that it included nearly six thousand looted burials. The examination of these burials and the skeletons has opened a new research window on life and death in the lower classes of Egyptian society. They manifest a clear picture of poverty, hard work, poor diet, ill-health, frequent injury and relatively early death.
The Majority of Town’s Building was Done by Children
The Guardian reports that the initial analysis of the 105 skeletons excavated at the North Tombs Cemetery in 2015, was conducted by Dr. Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University and is now completed. The analysis divulges that more than ninety percent of the deceased in the sample had been between the ages of seven and twenty-five, with most of them being under fifteen. Even though youngsters usually have an extremely good health, the majority of the teens in the sample showed signs of severe injuries and degenerative conditions associated with hard working under unhealthy conditions.
A juvenile burial under excavation at the North Tombs Cemetery, Amarna, Egypt. Photograph: Mary Shepperson/Courtesy of The Amarna Project
Additionally, researchers concluded that the young individuals were not buried by their family members, as the graves lacked grave goods. Also, archaeologists speculate that the young workers could possibly have been the children of slaves, or captured in order to build the pharaoh’s city. Despite sounding completely barbaric by today’s modern standards, the safest conclusion experts can make at the moment, is that children as young as seven were forced to carry out frequent heavy labor, with many of them dying from the inhumane conditions.
Last but not least, as The Guardian reports, all work at Amarna is carried out with the permission and support of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The work at the North Tombs Cemetery is supported with funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The Amarna Project is a project of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.