The Pharaoh Senebkay

Forensic analysis of Pharaoh Senebkay’s skeleton revealed graphic details about his last moments. Photograph by Josef Wegner, Penn Museum. Skeletal analysis of a little-known Egyptian pharaoh, whose remains were discovered only last year, has revealed dramatic details about the ruler’s violent death.

King Senebkay lived between 1650 and 1550 B.C. near the ancient Egyptian cemetery of Abydos, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) south of Cairo. He was one of four mysterious pharaohs whose tombs were discovered in January 2014 and who belonged to a previously unknown royal dynasty.

A recent analysis of Senebkay’s skeleton revealed that he was assailed by multiple adversaries wielding bronze “duck-bill” axes. The pharaoh received 18 blows that penetrated to the bone, including lethal strikes to his skull and back.

“It looks very brutal,” said Joe Wegner, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, who led the excavation. “He was likely swamped by attackers stabbing and slashing him.”

Clues to Manner of Death, Way of Life

Studying the angles and locations of the blows allowed Wegner and his team to offer a speculative scenario that explains the pattern of trauma.

Senebkay was probably mounted on horseback when he was first attacked. A major wound to his right ankle would have nearly severed the foot and caused massive bleeding. Marks on his knees and hands indicate an overwhelming onslaught, and blows to the lower back seem to have been delivered while he was in a seated posture.

By the time he suffered three devastating ax blows to the head, Senebkay had likely fallen to the ground. One strike landed with such force that the curvature and thickness of the blade are actually impressed on his cranium.

“Someone really wanted him dead,” Wegner said. While an assassination by rival political elites is possible, Wegner thinks the pharaoh died in battle or during an ambush. “To me the physical evidence looks like a savage attack by trained soldiers.”  Read more…