Neurophilosophy

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Most people recognize Tutankhamun as the boy-king of ancient Egypt. He is the most well-known pharaoh because his tomb was discovered apparently intact* and, more importantly, because it contained the magnificent gold mask that has become an icon of Egypt.

Tutankhamun was otherwise unremarkable, as was his mother Nefertiti, who is renowned only for her beauty. Of far greater interest, and importance, than both Tutankhamun and Nefertiti was the pharaoh who some believe was Tutankhamun’s father: Akhenaten, the so-called “heretical” pharaoh.

Akhenaten was an eighteenth dynasty pharaoh, who ruled over Egypt somewhere between 1353 – 1334 BCE. He is one of the most pivotal figures in world history – he invented monotheism, and his religion formed the basis of Judaeo-Christianity and Islam.

As well as being one of the most influential historical figures, Akhenaten is also one of the most enigmatic. His reign was a turbulent period in ancient Egyptian history, filled with deception, intrigue and murder. His true identity is still debated, and his remains have never been found.

But now, Egyptologists examining an unidentified mummy discovered in a tomb close to that of Tutankhamun’s have obtained forensic evidence which supports the theory that Akhenaten was indeed the boy-king’s father.

Akhenaten was an artistic, political and religious revolutionary, who was branded a heretic after upsetting the pre-existing religious establishment. In establishing the sun god Aten as the supreme and only deity, Akhenaten ordered the closure of all temples in which other deities were worshipped; in consequence, the corrupt high priesthood could not continue to amass riches from the god-fearing Egyptian populace.  

The heretic was ousted and, along with his followers, expelled into the Sinai peninsula (leading some, most notably Sigmund Freud, to speculate that Moses was in fact Akhenaten). The priesthood installed a puppet leader – Tutankhamun – and, after regaining power, began to eradicate evidence of Akhenaten’s reign. They destroyed the institutions he had established and the works of art that he had commissioned, and erased his name from the official lists of kings.

The mummy in question was first discovered in 1907, in tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings. It has been identified as Akhenaten by an international team of archaeologists led by Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (pictured at the top). Hawass and his colleagues used computed tomography (CT) scanning to look inside the mummy’s wrappings. The scans revealed that the mummy shares a number physical traits with Tutankhamun, and was therefore probably afflicted with the same hereditary conditions from which the boy-king is believed to have suffered.

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Like Tutankhamun, the mummy was found to have an elongated skull due to a congenital condition dolichocephaly, in which abnormally early fusion of the bones of the skull during development restricts the width of the head. And, also like Tutankhamun, the mummy was found to have cleft palate, impacted wisdom teeth and slight scoliosis – or abnormal curvature  – of the spine. It is therefore probable that the individual had a genetic link with Tutankhamun.

Finally, there are two lines of indirect evidence that the mummy is Akhenaten. The sarcophagus in which the mummy was found had been defaced, so that the face and cartouche bearing a name were obscured. This may have been done by the old priesthood during Akhenaten’s burial, in their efforts to erase all historical record of the heretic. And hieroglyphics surrounding the defaced cartouch also suggest that the mummy is Akhenaten.

Hawass and his team cautiously believe that the mysterious mummy is the heretical pharaoh. But they note that it could also be several other members of Tutankhamun’s family, and some Egyptologists suggest that the mummy is actually Smenkhkare, who is thought to have been either Tutankhamun’s brother or his son (and would therefore also share his genes). But the pharaohs are known to have married their sisters and their daughters, and did not keep records of parent-sibling relationships, so establishing the mummy’s true identity unequivocally will be very difficult. 

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*Tutankhamun’s tomb is generally believed to have been discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. In fact, Carter had discovered the tomb before the official discovery date, but kept his find a closely-guarded secret. At the time, tomb-hunting was a popular activity in Egypt, and Egyptian law stated that the vast majority of the contents found within newly-discovered tombs belonged to the government.

It recently emerged that Carter had plundered the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb before announcing his discovery. But he left the magnificant gold mask, and built a false wall, complete with hieroglyphics, at the entrance, so that he would later be witnessed by all to be entering the tomb for the first time. So Carter, who is generally acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest archaeologists, was, in fact, a tomb raider.

Comments

  1. #1 Alvaro
    July 13, 2007

    what a picture bottom-right…and thanks for the explanation that “the mummy was found to have an elongated skull due to a congenital condition dolichocephaly, in which abnormally early fusion of the bones of the skull during development restricts the width of the head.”

    this brings neuroplasticity to a whole new level…

  2. #2 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 13, 2007

    “Plundered”?

    It’s been widely known for many years that Carter, Lord Carnarvon, Carnarvon’s daughter and a few others entered the tomb the day before the official opening. They explored the Antechamber and Annex, but did not enter the other two chambers (the Burial Chamber and the Treasury). More outlandish claims, such as those in Gerald O’Farrell’s The Tutanhkamun Deception, are not generally regarded as reliable.

  3. #3 Martin R
    July 15, 2007

    Carter didn’t rob the tomb. Robbery was attempted shortly after the burial, but the looters were interrupted and the tomb was re-sealed by funerary priests.

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  5. #5 Marc Philippens
    September 28, 2007

    To know for sure if Akhenaten was Tut’s father, can’t they do DNA testing? There must be enough material left to do this.

  6. #6 Jaker
    December 11, 2007

    Why isn’t the theory that ET’s crashed on earth 42,000 years ago and could not return home, hence, for there progeny mixed genomes with humans? It answers everything from the Neolithic period onwards. Look at the skulls and then go look up people who suffer from dolichocephaly. You really think Kings and Queens would be the only ones with this disorder? I guess it’s easier to believe in “the immaculate conception” and kill each other in the name of God.

  7. #7 Elizabeth
    February 12, 2008

    realy a tomb rader ever since i found out about tutankhamun i have been so intrested finding out more Howard carter a tomb reder thats the most intresting fact ive ever found out if you have more info please send me some

  8. #8 belinda
    May 19, 2008

    nice site, full of great info.

  9. #9 Phillip Jackdoe
    June 28, 2008

    This article is indeed very useful and highly significant -scientifically, genetically etc.
    However in terms of logic implausible, i.e. Akhenaten rejected the Egyptian poytheistic religion and in particular the state god Amun-Ra in favour of Aten worship and hence monotheism. Therefore he would no longer be considered the son of the state god and would be illegimate to rule. Hence would not be buried in the valley of the kings, west of the city of Thebes which was the seat of power of the Amun priesthood which bitterly opposed him.

  10. #10 sami
    September 24, 2008

    i love this article and every thing avout Egypt. hope everyone who read it fell in love with it

  11. #11 Cody
    December 2, 2008

    “Why isn’t the theory that ET’s crashed on earth 42,000 years ago and could not return home, hence, for there progeny mixed genomes with humans? It answers everything from the Neolithic period onwards. Look at the skulls and then go look up people who suffer from dolichocephaly. You really think Kings and Queens would be the only ones with this disorder? I guess it’s easier to believe in “the immaculate conception” and kill each other in the name of God”

    Because this is a stupid theory, and there is no proof to back it up. There is no reliable proof of ET’s, so the theory that they “crash landed” in egypt and became royalty is ridiculous. If we found the mummyies of these kings and queens you say mixed genes with the ET’s, why havent we found the mummies of the ET’s themselves??

    Also Kings and Queens were NOT the only ones affected by dolichocephaly. Many other ordinary citizens suffered from it, its just that their bodies were not mummified, only the kings and quenns bodies were.

  12. #12 ashley
    December 12, 2008

    eww, this site is groseee!!
    the pics are disturbing.
    but it helped me finish my school project!

  13. #13 kelsey
    June 7, 2009

    i am a tutankhmun fan but to be honest it is kinda GROSE.!

  14. #14 AJAY KUMAR TANK
    July 29, 2011

    I LOVE THIS ARTICLE AND EVERYTHING ABOUT EGYPT
    AND I HOPE THAT EVERYONE WHO READ IT FILL IN LOVE WITH IT.

    POSTED BY:AJAY KUMAR TANK
    29/7/2011
    1:53AM

  15. #15 Australian Dollar
    August 13, 2011

    I just read this article – very interesting. I would contend the Akhenaten-Moses speculation as being more than a little tenuous, but other than that, I like the cut of your gibe here.
    Have the abnormally shaped skulls of Tutankhamun’s lineage been proven to have been actually caused by dolichocephaly though?