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This Egyptian pharaoh was violently executed on the battlefield

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According to a study published in Frontiers in medicine, the Egyptian pharaoh Seqenenre-Taa-II was probably executed by several assailants on the battlefield. The new research also shows that the deceased’s body had already entered a state of decay prior to mummification and his embalmers did their best to preserve it.

Seqenenrê Tâa ruled the south of Egypt from -1558 to -1554. At that time, the Hyksos, a multiethnic group from Asia, ruled the northern territories, notably taking control of Avaris, the capital. The latter nevertheless allowed the Egyptian rulers to keep control over the south, on condition that they pay homage to King Hyskos. Under his reign, Seqenenrê Tâa finally organized resistance against the occupier in an attempt to oust him. And obviously, he paid a heavy price for it.

Discovered in the 1880s, the pharaoh’s mummy had been first analyzed by X-ray in the 1960s. At that time, researchers had isolated several injuries to the skull. It also emerged that his body had already entered a state of decay before the mummification process, leading researchers to speculate on the circumstances of his death.

More recently, a team from Cairo University relied on more modern techniques to re-analyze the body of the deceased. The team also looked at archaeological literature to assess the various Asian weapons previously discovered in the ancient capital of the Hyksos. They isolated five of them, three daggers, a battle ax and a spearhead, the dates of which coincided with Seqenenre’s reign and death.

A violent death

This work then revealed several points. We now know, for example, that the ancient pharaoh is died at the age of forty, and that he measured about 1.67m. The study also confirmed that the mummy was in very poor condition. There is indeed very little soft tissue left on the bones and the head is detached from the rest of the body. The remains of a parched and shrunken brain were found on the left side of the skull. In other words, the embalmers decided not to remove it, unlike the other organs.

The researchers isolated major injuries to the skull, including a large fracture on his forehead inflicted by a sharp, heavy object, “like a sword or an ax“, according to the document. The location of this wound also suggests that the assailant was positioned above the Pharaoh. Two other penetrating injuries (one under his left ear, the other in the base of his skull) were probably caused by a spearhead.

It is not known which of these injuries killed the Pharaoh in the first place. Still, according to the authors, any would have been fatal.

The condition of the pharaoh’s hands and wrists suggests that the latter suffered from cadaveric spasm which usually affects the limbs of people who are victims of violent deaths. These spasms also often crystallize the last activity performed before death. In this case, the positioning of the pharaoh’s hands suggests that these wrists were tied together, probably behind his body, when he was killed.

3D image of the pharaoh’s severely damaged skull. Credit: Sahar Saleem

On the front line with his soldiers

Finally, the authors confirmed that his body was already decaying at the time of mummification. They also point out that the embalmers deliberately attempted to hide the wounds of the pharaoh, “probably as a desperate attempt to beautify the wounded corpse of the king“, Can we read.

Of course, this is only speculation, but all this information therefore suggests that Seqenenrê Tâa is dead on the battlefield, surrounded by his assailants. “This suggests that the Pharaoh was truly on the front lines with his soldiers, risking his life to liberate Egypt.“, Concludes Sahar Saleem, lead author of the study.


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