Finding the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh is an incredible and exciting discovery. While most tombs are nothing like the gilded tomb of Tutankhamun, each discovery sheds more light on what ancient Egypt was like.
Imagine not just finding a pharaoh’s tomb but finding the tomb of a pharaoh that time and history forgot. That is what happened in 2014.
Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania were excavating an area of Egypt for what they assumed would be a small handful of king’s tombs. Instead, they found over twenty pharaohs that were rulers of a long lost Dynasty.
Most excitingly, the team found the tomb and remains of Woseribe Senebkay, potentially the earliest pharaoh that we know to have died in battle. Who was Senebkay, and what was the lost Dynasty he once ruled?
Senebkay and the Abydos Dynasty
King Senebkay was a ruler in Egypt around 3,650 years ago during the later part of Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650-1550 BC). Researchers estimated that he was around 5ft 10in (1.75m) tall, a height that was very tall during this time of history, and he died when he was 35-40 years old.
While the world had forgotten Senebkay, scientists believe that his name may have been on a broken section of the Turin King List. This list includes the names of kings written during Rameses II’s reign in 1200 BC. The damaged section of the list has two kings who had the throne name “Woser….re” listed as the head of a group of over 20 kings whose names are entirely lost.
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Many experts did not believe Ryholt’s theory because there was no proof that such a dynasty existed. Still, the tomb and remains of Senebkay were part of a more extensive discovery of a necropolis of royal tombs. Proving there was a lost dynasty that was ruled by long-forgotten kings.
The forgotten Abydos Dynasty is believed to have been an independent dynasty that existed during both the 15th Hyksos Dynasty that ruled over Lower (Mediterranean) and Middle Egypt from the city of Avaris in the Nile delta, and the 16th Theban Dynasty that ruled over the region around Thebes in Upper Egypt.
The city of Abydos, where Senebkay was found, is an ancient city that was located around 300 miles (483 km) south of present-day Cairo. Which places it in a central area between the Northern and Southern Egyptian kingdoms.
The northern and southern kingdoms were united a century later in c. 1700 BC, and researchers are working to determine the exact role the Abydos Dynasty played when it existed. The tomb of Senebkay does shed light on the financial situation of the Abydos Dynasty.
The Tomb of Senebkay
Senebkay’s tomb told archaeologists that a group of later pharaohs from around a century and a half after the 13th Dynasty reused elements from the earlier pharaoh Sobekhotep when they built and equipped their tombs. This suggests that the Abydos Dynasty’s kings were possibly experiencing economic troubles.
Senebkay’s tomb was modest and consisted of four chambers, and his burial chamber was made of limestone. On the walls of the burial chamber were painted images of the goddess related to death, magic, and rebirth; Selket, Isis, Nephthys, and Nut that flanked his canopic shrine. On the walls, archeologists found writings identifying Senebkay as the “king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Woseribre, the son of Re, Snebkay.”
There wasn’t much else to find in Senebkay’s tomb because it had been ravaged by ancient tomb raiders. The tomb raiders had ripped apart the king’s mummy and removed any and all gilding that had once been on different surfaces of the tomb.
Senebkay’s bones were found scattered amongst the debris of a decaying cedar wood canopic chest that was reused from Sobekhotep. A canopic chest are cases that were used in ancient Egypt to store/contain the internal organs that had been removed during the mummification process. The remains of the canopic chest still had the other pharaoh’s name written on it.
A Warrior King
Archaeologists determined that King Senebkay was most likely killed in battle by several assailants. The skeleton had 18 wounds that were so deep they penetrated the bone. His body shows that he suffered from a very deep wound that almost severed his right foot, which, when dealt, would have caused massive bleeding.
There are wounds on Senebkay’s hands, knees, and several blows to his lower back. Three axe blows were so well preserved in the king’s skull that scientists were able to recognize the duck-billed blade shape and curvature of the strikes. They were able to match the wounds to battle axes used during the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt.
The wound patterns seem to suggest that Senebkay was attacked while in an “elevated position compared to his attackers.” He may have possibly been on horseback. Osteological analysis of Senebkay’s body found that the remains of muscular attachments on the pelvis and femurs indicate that while alive, Senebkay rode a horse for a considerable amount of time as an adult.
The remains of the body of another king at the site also showed signs of having ridden horses. The Second Intermediate Period kings buried at the necropolis in Abydos were skilled horsemen. Ancient Egyptians had horses, but riding horseback in battle did not become common until after the Bronze Age. The discovery was that Egyptians had “mastered the use of horses during the Second Intermediate Period.”
Horses may have played a role in the military involvement in this era, long before chariots were invented in Egypt, which occurred ca. 1550. It is believed that Senebkay died in a battle that took place a substantial distance away from where he was buried in Abydos.
The remains of the king’s body show that a significant amount of time had passed since his death and the preparation of his body for burial. It remains a mystery where the king was slaughtered or who the assailants were.
Top Image: Senebkay dates from one of the two intermediate periods when Egypt was politically splintered, and is believed to be from a forgotten dynasty. Source: Ivan / Adobe Stock.