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Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology have uncovered the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh named Woseribre Senebkay who ruled during one of the most tumultuous periods in Egyptian history.
Led by Dr. Josef Wegner, Associate Curator of the Penn Museum’s Egyptian section, the team discovered a tomb with four chambers, including a richly decorated limestone burial chamber that once held Senebkay’s mummy. The colorful wall decoration showed the goddesses Isis, Nepthys, Nut, and Serket flanking the king’s canopic chest, which would have contained internal organs removed during the mummification process. The walls were also adorned with hieroglyphic texts that gave the king’s throne name (Woseribre) and his birth name (Senebkay).
Senebkay’s tomb was robbed in antiquity, and the thieves ripped his mummy apart. However, archaeologists were able to recover his skeleton, along with fragments of grave goods, including a funerary mask and a coffin. Analysis of the king’s bones by Penn graduate students Paul Verhelst and Matthew Olson indicates that he was around 5ft 10in (1.78m) and probably died in his 40s.
The team believes that Senebkay ruled c. 1650 BCE during a chaotic era known to scholars as the Second Intermediate Period. The era is poorly understood by scholars, and there is still widespread confusion about the sequence of rulers. In 1997, Danish scholar Kim Ryholt first suggested that there might have been a dynasty of kings based at Abydos, and the discovery of Senebkay’s tomb confirms his theory. Scholars believe that Senebkay was probably one of the first rulers of the Abydos dynasty. His name may be preserved in a fragment of the Turin King List, which lists two kings with throne names that contained the elements “Woser…re” as part of a larger group of rulers.
Senebkay’s tomb was quite modest, and it contained material taken from other pharaohs’ sepulchers. His canopic chest, for example, had originally been made for King Sobekhotep I (c. 1780 BCE), and the previous pharaoh’s name was covered up with gilding. Other tombs in the area also show evidence of reused grave goods, suggesting that the Abydos dynasty might have been comparatively poor.
“It’s exciting to find not just the tomb of one previously unknown pharaoh, but the necropolis of an entire forgotten dynasty,” said Dr. Wegner in a press release issued by the Penn Museum. “Continued work in the royal tombs of the Abydos Dynasty promises to shed new light on the political history and society of an important but poorly understood era of Ancient Egypt.”