3,600-year-old bones of king Senebkay show Egyptian pharaoh met brutal end
King Senebkay, pharaoh during the Abydos Dynasty, was brutally killed during a fierce battle, researchers believe, and his remains were returned home to be mummified long after his death.
Dr. Josef Wegner, associate director of Egyptian archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and his team discovered the remains in South Abydos, Sohag province, Egypt last year. The body was discovered in a wooden coffin inside a four-chamber tomb. Senebkay’s mummified remains had been ripped apart by robbers in antiquity, but archaeologists were able to piece the mummy together and complete a full forensic analysis.
The research team determined that Senebkay was 1.72 to 1.82 meters (5’9″ to 6 feet) in height, and was 35 to 40 years of age at the time of death. His bones revealed a “shocking” number of wounds, thought to have been caused by collective attacks, reports DiscoveryNews.
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Catastrophic skull injuries indicated that various weapons, including axes, were used in what appears to have been a great battle.
Dr. Wegner tells DiscoveryNews, “The king’s skeleton has 18 wounds that penetrated to the bone. 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.
“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,” he concludes.
Reconstruction of the pharaoh’s final moments through bone analysis suggests he was on a horse when he was attacked and brought down. According to International Business Times , Wegner says the mummy’s leg bones and pelvis indicated he had been a lifelong rider, and that horseback riding may have played an increasing role in military campaigns during the Abydos dynasty, before chariot technology had been adopted.
Wegner and his colleagues cannot say for certain who slayed Pharaoh Senebkay - whether it was northern Hyksos kings, or southern Egyptian enemies. It has been determined, however, that he was probably far from home when he died, as his remains were not mummified until a long time after his death.
The skeleton of Pharaoh Senebkay. Credit: Ministry of Antiquities
The skeleton of king Senebkay was uncovered in 2014 to the excitement of researchers. Never before heard of in ancient Egyptian history, king Senebkay's name was found inscribed in hieroglyphics written inside a royal cartouche - an oval with a horizontal line at one end signaling a royal name.
"This was the first time in history to discover the king," said Ali Asfar, Head of Antiquities for the Egyptian government.
According to Ministry official Ayman El-Damarani, king Senebkay ruled Egypt for four and a half years, the longest reign of his time. It is believed he may have been the first to rule Egypt at the beginning of the 13 th Dynasty, a little understood period of history. Historians have not yet pieced together its beginning and end, nor established who ruled when.
DiscoveryNews writes that, “Senebkay, whose name means ‘my spirit is healthy,’ appears to belong to a short-lived kingdom, the Abydos Dynasty dating ca. 1650-1600 BC. At that time central authority collapsed, giving rise to several small kingdoms.”
The cartouche of a newly discovered pharaoh, Woseribre Senebkay, inside the king’s burial tomb. Public Domain
The sacred city of Abydos was a necropolis for early Egyptian royalty. The many temples were used from prehistoric to Roman times. Excavations, such as the one which discovered Senebkay, continue at the ancient site.
A view down the axis of the hypostyle hall of the temple of Seti I at Abydos, Egypt. Credit: Irene Soto/ Flickr
Featured Image: Fatal wounds to the front and back of the skull thought to be caused by axe blows. Credit: Josef Wegner.
By Liz Leafloor