CT scan on Pharaoh Seqenenre-Taa II mummy reveals cause of death

Nehal Samir
6 Min Read
Seqenenre-Taa II

Modern medical technology has helped establish the cause of death and tell the story of an Ancient Egyptian king who died whilst reunifying Egypt in the 16th Century BCE.

Research has been published on 17 February in the scientific journal Frontiers in Medicine, relating to an examination of the mummy of King Seqenenre-Taa II, who underwent a range of CT scans to find out more about how he died.

The research was conducted by renowned Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass, and Sahar Saleem, Professor of Radiology at Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine.

King Seqenenre-Taa II, also known simply as Seqenenre, ruled southern Egypt during the country’s occupation by the Hyksos, a foreign ruling dynasty that seized the Nile Delta area and ruled there for about a century (1650-1550 BC).

The ancient king’s mummy was discovered in 1881 in the Royal Cache, an Ancient Egyptian tomb located next to Deir El-Bahri, in the Theban Necropolis, opposite the modern city of Luxor, and was examined then for the first time. In the 1960s, with the significant advancement of technology since its discovery, the mummy was studied using X-ray techniques.

These examinations indicated that the deceased King had suffered several severe head injuries, although no injuries were found on the rest of the body. Theories have differed as to the cause of the King’s death, as some believed that he was killed in a battle, perhaps by the hands of the Hyksos king himself.

Others indicated that Seqenenre’s life may have been taken during a palace conspiracy, with the king murdered in his sleep. 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.

In their research, Hawass and Saleem presented a new interpretation of the events before and after Seqenenre’s death, based on 2D and 3D CT image reconstruction using advanced computer technologies.

Using CT scan technology allows for non-invasive and safe medical imaging techniques used to study archaeological remains, including mummies. It helps preserve the remains, and helps researchers study many Egyptian royal mummies and determine their age at death, gender, and how they died.    

Seqenenre’s deformed hands indicate that he may have been captured on the battlefield. With his hands tied behind his back, he was prevented from deflecting the fierce attack from his face and head.

CT scans of his mummy revealed details of the head injuries he received, including wounds that had been skilfully hidden by embalmers and which had not been discovered in previous examinations.

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

The results indicate that the Ancient Egyptian King was killed by multiple hits from different angles by several Hyksos attackers who used different weapons, rather than 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 40 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.

Both Hawass and Saleem are pioneers in the use of CT scans to study royal mummies of the New Kingdom, including the warrior kings 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. 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, with Seqenenre’s death motivating his successors to continue the struggle to unify Egypt and to found the New Kingdom.

A stela known as the Tablet of Carnavaron, found in the Temple of Thebes at Karnak, details the battles fought by Kamos, son of Seqenenre, against the Hyksos. Kamos suffered his own death 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 into modern-day Gaza in Palestine, reunifying Egypt.

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