CT scans of mummy of ancient Egyptian King Seqenenre-Taa-II reveal circumstances of his death

Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 17 Feb 2021

King Seqenenre-Taa-II was killed while fighting Egypt’s invaders and his embalmers had skillfully concealed some head wounds

Mummy of King Seqenenre-Taa-II
A CT-scan of the mummy of King Seqenenre-Taa-II with the two Egyptian researchers Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem. Al-Ahram

A CT-scan study of the mummy of King Seqenenre-Taa-II, whose death eventually helped the expulsion of Egypt’s invaders and reunited the kingdom, revealed new details about how the King died.

The study by Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem has been published on February 17th in a scientific Journal (Frontiers in Medicine). Hawass and Saleem suggest that the pharaoh died close to the battlefield and was ceremoniously executed by several attackers using Hyksos weapons. The 3D CT images revealed that the embalmers had skillfully concealed some of the wounds, implying professional mummification of the body in the royal Theban mummification workshop

Modern medical technology helped tell the story of a king in ancient Egypt who was martyred for the sake of reunifying Egypt in the 16th century BC.

Pharaoh Seqenenre Taa II the Brave, ruled southern Egypt during the occupation of the country by the Hyksos, a foreign ruling dynasty that seized the delta in northern Egypt for about a century (1650-1550 BC).

The mummy of Seqenenre was discovered in Deir Al-Bahri Royal Cachette in 1881 and was examined then for the first time; in the 1960s, the mummy was studied using X-rays. These examinations indicated that the deceased King had suffered several severe head injuries; however, there were no injuries to the rest of the body.

Theories have differed as to the cause of the death of the King, as some believed that the king was killed in a battle, perhaps by the hands of the Hyksos king himself. Others indicated that Seqenenre may have been killed by a conspiracy while sleeping in his palace. Due to the poor condition of the mummy, some suggested that the mummification may have taken place in a hurry away from the royal mummification workshop.

CT scan technology is one of the medical imaging techniques used to study archaeological remains, including mummies, safely and non-invasively, which helps to preserve them. CT scans helped study many Egyptian royal mummies and determine age at death, sex, as well as how they died.

In their research, Hawass and Saleem presented a new interpretation of the events before and after the death of King Seqenenre, based on two- and three-dimensional CT image reconstruction using advanced computer technologies.

The deformed hands indicate that Seqenenre may have been captured on the battlefield and his hands were tied behind his back, preventing him from deflecting the fierce attack from his face. The CT scan of Seqenenre’s mummy revealed details of the head injuries, including wounds that had not been discovered in previous examinations and had been skillfully hidden by embalmers.

The research included a study of various Hyksos weapons stored at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, including an axe, a spear, and several daggers. Saleem and Hawass confirmed the compatibility of these weapons with the wounds of Seqenenre.

The results indicate that Seqenenre was killed by multiple hits from different angles by several Hyksos attackers who used different weapons. Seqenenre was rather killed in a ceremonial execution. This indicates that Seqenenre was really on the front line, risking his life with his soldiers to liberate Egypt.

This CT study also determined that Seqenenre was about forty years old at the time of his death, based on the shape of the bones (such as the pubic symphysis joint) providing the most accurate estimate to date.

Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, and Sahar Saleem, a professor of radiology, are pioneers in the use of CT scans to study several royal mummies of the New Kingdom, including reputable warriors such as Thutmose III, Ramses II, and Ramses III; however, Seqenenre appears to be the only one among them who was on the front line of the battlefield.

In addition, this study revealed important details about the embalming of the body of Seqenenre.

For example, embalmers used a sophisticated method of hiding wounds on the king's head under a layer of embalming material that works similarly to the fillings used in modern plastic surgery. This means that the mummification was actually done in a royal mummification workshop rather than a poorly prepared place, as was previously suggested.

This study provides important new details about a pivotal point in Egypt's long history. The death of Seqenenre inspired his successors to continue the struggle to unify Egypt and to found the New Kingdom.

In a stela known as the Tablet of Carnavaron, found in the Temple of Thebes of Karnak, the battles fought by Kamos, son of Seqenenre against the Hyksos is recorded. Kamos fell dead during the war against the Hyksos, and it was Ahmose, the second son of Seqenenre, who completed the expulsion of the Hyksos. He fought them, defeated them, and chased them until Gaza in Palestine and reunited Egypt.

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