Stories tagged pharaoh

Feb
08
2010

The Discovery of King Tut: Howard Carter, staging the discovery of King Tut, in 1922.
The Discovery of King Tut: Howard Carter, staging the discovery of King Tut, in 1922.Courtesy Wiki Media Commons
Science Buzz bloggers have been buzzing about this topic for some time, but as the time draws near, I thought I would jump in for those new to Science Buzz. The rapidly expanding field of DNA analysis is now being used to verify the genealogy of the great kings of Egypt. Zahi Hawass, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, has announced that on February 17th, 2010 he will be revealing the results of DNA testing on the famous mummy of the boy king, Tutankhamun. DNA testing has already been done on King Amenhotep III (who reigned from approximately 1388 to 1351 BCE) for comparison as he is believed to be either Tut’s father or grandfather. The mummy of Amenhotep’s son, Akhenaten (who could be Tut’s father), has yet to be found. Researchers also plan to test the DNA of two mummified fetuses found in the tomb to determine if they are related to Tut and shed light on whether King Tut’s bride, daughter of Akhenaten, was his full sister or half sister.

Despite the popularity of King Tut and the splendid artifacts found in his tomb, he is actually only a minor figure in the history of Egyptian pharaohs, reigning for a mere 10 years in a time of great unrest. The story of Akhenaten is more interesting. Akhenaten, who ruled from 1352 to 1336 BCE, is famous for changing both religion and artistic style in Egypt, what is now known as the Amarna Period. Akhenaton introduced a new monotheistic cult of worship surrounding the sun disc Aten and excluded all other Egyptian gods from being worshipped in an effort to suppress the powerful priesthood of Amun.

Pharaoh Akhenaten: Classic Amarna Period sculpture of the Pharaoh Akhenaten.
Pharaoh Akhenaten: Classic Amarna Period sculpture of the Pharaoh Akhenaten.Courtesy Hajor and Wiki Media Commons
Artwork during the Amarna Period took on a more naturalistic style and often emphasized affectionate family scenes of the Pharaoh with his wife Nefertiti and their children. Of interest to many art historians is the depiction of Akhenaten himself. He is represented with an accentuated feminine appearance, rounded protruding belly, wide hips, long slender limbs, and a long thin face. Some believe it is a purposeful political depiction stressing his belief in equality of the sexes, some suggest he was a hermaphrodite, and others suggest he had Marfan’s syndrome. People with Marfan’s syndrome are usually very tall with long thin arms and legs, have thin faces, and funnel shaped chests. Unfortunately, until his mummy is located this will remain a mystery.

When Akhenaten died, the priests of Amun regained power, striking Akhenaten’s name from Egyptian records, reversed all of his religious and governmental changes, and returned the capitol to Thebes. His son, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun to honor Amun and became the now famous boy king ruling from 1336 to 1327 BCE.

Mr. Hawass has announced plans to test all the royal mummies using their new $5 million DNA lab in the Egyptian museum. However, there is some concern in the scientific field that he will not submit results to labs outside Egypt for independent verification as is common practice in DNA testing. For example, DNA results of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s famous, powerful and only female pharaoh have never been released. Our fascination with the pharaohs is sure to continue for many more centuries.

May
02
2008

King or queen of Egypt: This statue depicts Akhenaten, a pharaoh of Egypt  who some believe suffered a rare genetic disease that gave him a very feminine appearance.
King or queen of Egypt: This statue depicts Akhenaten, a pharaoh of Egypt who some believe suffered a rare genetic disease that gave him a very feminine appearance.Courtesy Gérard Ducher
In the movies, Egyptian pharaohs have that manly-man look with rippling biceps, clean-shaved heads and steely eyes.

But upon further review, it’s considered that one of ancient Egypt’s leaders my have been – in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger – “a girly man.”

A recent conference that does posthumous analysis of the medical conditions of famous people through history, this year looked at the genetic make up of Akhenaten, a pharaoh whose reign was believed to be around 1353 BC to 1336 BC. He is also considered the likely father of Tutankhamun, better known to us today as King Tut.

Through analysis of statues and artistic renderings of Akhenaten, a Yale University doctor proposes that the pharaoh suffered from Marfan syndrome which makes males have a much more feminine appearance. The condition makes the body convert a larger share of male hormones into female hormones than what normally occurs in male bodies.

Through artistic depiction, Akhenaten strikes a more female pose, with long fingers, wider hips, larger breasts and female-shaped eyes. Also, Akhenaten had an egg-shaped head which might have been the result of problems of skull bones fusing at an early age.

Another view: Here's another statue of Akhenaten. Do you think he might have suffered from Marfan syndrome?
Another view: Here's another statue of Akhenaten. Do you think he might have suffered from Marfan syndrome?Courtesy Paul Mannix
Despite his female appearance, Akhenaten was a prodigious reproducer. His chief wife was Nefertiti, who is often depicted in Egyptian art. All total, Akhenaten was known to have fathered six daughters and may have also been the father of Tutankhamun.

But here’s the big caveat: The researchers acknowledge that these theories are based solely on their observations of Akhenaten from works of art. They’re hoping to get clearance from Egyptian officials to do DNA analysis on Akhenaten’s remains to see if there are signs of Marfan syndrome there.

BTW: Akhenaten is one of the more intriguing pharaoh’s from ancient Egypt. There are theories that he worked with, or even actually was, the Jewish prophet Moses. There is another theory that he was the source of the Greek’s creation of the Oedipus complex story. You can get more background on these Akhenaten theories at this Wikipedia page.

The historical medical conference, held this week at the University of Maryland, in past years as delved into the medical histories of such luminaries as Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander the Great, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Florence Nightingale.