April Holloway | Ancient Origins
Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered the burial place and the remains of a previously unknown pharaoh who reigned more than 3600 years ago and now believe the finding could lead to more royal discoveries in the area.
The skeleton of King Seneb kay (also written Senebkey) were uncovered at South Abydos in Sohag province, about 500 kilometres south of Cairo, by a University of Pennsylvania expedition working with the government. Never before heard of in ancient Egyptian history, King Seneb kay’s name was found inscribed in hieroglyphics written inside a royal cartouche – an oval with a horizontal line at one end signalling a royal name.
“This was the first time in history to discover the king,” said Ali Asfar, Head of Antiquities for the Egyptian government.
According to Ministry official Ayman El-Damarani, king Saneb kay ruled Egypt for four and a half years, which is the longest rule of his time. It is believed he may have been the first to rule Egypt at the beginning of the 13th Dynasty, a little known period of history in which historians have not yet pieced together its beginning and end and who ruled when. But another recent discovery is also helping to learn more about ‘the lost dynasty’ – the tomb of king Sobekhotep I.
“This adds to our pharaonic history, and sheds light on an era about which we knew very little previously,” said Asfar.
King Saneb kay was found in a wooden sarcophagus inside a badly damaged stone tomb with no roof. He was originally mummified but his body was destroyed by ancient tomb robbers and only his skeleton remained. An analysis of his remains revealed he was approximately 5 foot 10 and died in his mid- to late 40s. No funerary goods were found in the tomb, which confirms it had been robbed in ancient times.
Josef Wegner, archaeologists with the University of Pennsylvania, describes the moment the discovery was made:
“It was a little bit like King Tut, in that we found the entrance first and it led us down to a burial chamber. We reached a painted limestone chamber with cartouches and the titular of a pharaoh. … In Abydos there is lots of sand, and everything is deeply buried. You can dig day after day, and then this….We were standing there looking dumbfounded at the colourful wall decoration.”
Wegner believes that this is only the beginning of many more discoveries: “Where there are king’s tombs, there are also queen’s tombs, and tombs of high officials of the royal court,” he said. “The discovery has given an interesting look at a period of fragmentation and political conflict, struggling with rival kingdoms of the north and south.”
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