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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Mummy CT scan reveals details of Egyptian king’s violent death

New research suggests Pharaoh Seqenenre Taa II was killed by invaders in the 16th century BC

A CT scan of the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh Seqenenre Taa II has revealed details of the circumstances of his violent death, research released on Wednesday showed.

The study by famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem, a professor of radiology at Cairo University who specialises in using radiology to study mummies, was published in Frontiers of Medicine.

Seqenenre, who ruled southern Egypt in the 16th century BC, sustained head injuries, prompting various theories about the cause of death.

The new CT findings suggest the king was killed while his hands were bound by Hyksos invaders, who used a wide range of weapons against him.

The CT images revealed more injuries on the right side of the skull, which had been concealed by the embalmers during mummification, and indicate the king died in his forties.

Dr Saleem, who is part of the Egyptian Mummy Project scanning dozens of royal mummies, said the CT scan allowed researchers to pick up details that could not be seen in X-rays.

“It stands out because there was no history related to Seqenenre – if he really went to a battle, or if he fought the Hyksos or not, or how he died,” she told The National.

The Hyksos, probably a group of Asian shepherds, occupied the northern part of Egypt between 1650 and 1550 BC.

During Seqenenre’s rule from about 1558-1553 BC, the king of Hyksos, Apophis, sent him a hostile message.

In it, Apophis complained that noisy hippopotami in Thebes in Upper Egypt were disturbing his sleep in the capital of Avaris, an ancient papyrus revealed.

The end of the papyrus was lost, leaving the fate of Seqenenre a mystery.

The Carnarvon Tablet, found in Thebes' Karnak Temple, recorded battles that Sequenre’s son Kamose fought against the Hyksos in the North.

Kamose was killed but Sequenre’s second son Ahmose was finally able to expel the Hyksos to modern Gaza in Palestine and unify Egypt.

“His death was not wasted because his successors, his two sons, continued the sacred fight against the Hyksos until Ahmose expelled the Hyksos and reunited Egypt once again,” Dr Saleem said.

Seqenenre’s mummy in its original linen wrappings was discovered in 1881 and transferred to Cairo Museum.

Examinations found severe head injuries indicating a violent death.

An X-ray study in the 1960s confirmed five traumatic injuries to the head and no fractures to the rest of the skeleton.

Hypotheses of his death included that he was killed while he slept in his palace or while riding a chariot in battle.

The CT scans, conducted in May 2019, showed a correlation between the injuries and five Hyksos weapons housed at the Cairo Egyptian Museum – three daggers, a battle axe and a spear head.

A view of an axe-head reportedly belonging to the enemy found with the mummy of ancient Egyptian King Seqenenre-Taa-II. AFP
A view of an axe-head reportedly belonging to the enemy found with the mummy of ancient Egyptian King Seqenenre-Taa-II. AFP

“The match between weapons and the morphology of the injuries strongly suggests that Seqenenre was killed during a war between the Egyptians and the Hyksos,” the research said.

The mummy’s deformed hands and the absence of injuries on the rest of the body suggest the king was probably imprisoned with his hands tied, the study said.

“The CT scan shows that the king must have fought courageously against the Hyksos,” said Tarik Tawfik, associate professor of Egyptology at Cairo University and former general director of the Grand Egyptian Museum.

“Having these scans tells us historical details, as well as anatomical details about the ancient Egyptians at that time.

"Accordingly, these scans are a valuable addition to our Egyptology knowledge."

Updated: February 18, 2021 12:47 AM

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