Did Agrippina poison the Roman Emperor Claudius? Was General George Armstrong Custer mentally sound when he ordered the 7th Cavalry to attack at the Little Big Horn River? History is full of medical mysteries. After all, everyone has to die of something. But modern medical practitioners have actually found clues to the progress of diseases that still afflict mankind today by studying ancient sources who recorded the afflictions and demise of peoples of the past.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Grotesque" Imagery of Amarna Art Religion Not Reality

A history resource article by  © 2010

Small statue of Ahkenaten wearing the blue crownImage of small statue of Akhenaten  via Wikipedia
I was researching Egypt's 18th dynasty in the course of writing a book review and came across the official journal article detailing the results of a medical analysis recently done on mummies either identified or tentatively identified as members of the 18th dynasty.  The report is fascinating, although laymen may need to keep dictionary.com handy as it is written for the medical professional members of the American Medical Association.

I had heard that the studies had definitely concluded that Pharaoh Tutankhamun was not murdered but probably died as the result of a severe infestation of malaria.  But this report goes much further and discounts most pathological speculations about his father, the "heretic" pharaoh, Akhenaten, as well.

Replica of the bust of Queen Nefertiti 18th Dy...A reproduction of the famous bust of Nefertiti photographed at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum by Mary Harrsch (mharrsch) via Flickr
 Macroscopic and radiological inspection of the mummies did not show specific signs of gynecomastia, craniosynostoses, Antley-Bixler syndrome or deficiency in cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase, Marfan syndrome, or related disorders (eAppendix, Table 2). Therefore, the particular artistic presentation of persons in the Amarna period is confirmed as a royally decreed style most probably related to the religious reforms of Akhenaten.  It is unlikely that either Tutankhamun or Akhenaten actually displayed a significantly bizarre or feminine physique.

It is important to note that ancient Egyptian kings typically had themselves and their families represented in an idealized fashion. A recent radiographic examination of the Nefertiti bust in the Berlin Museum illustrates this clearly by showing that the original face of Nefertiti, present as a thin layer beneath the outer surface, is less beautiful than that represented by the artifact.33 Differences include the angles of the eyelids, creases around the corners of the mouth on the limestone surface, and a slight bump on the ridge of  the nose.34 Thus, especially in the absence of morphological justification, Akhenaten’s choice of a “grotesque” style becomes even more significant. - Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family, Journal of the American Medical Association
I see the researchers also did exhaustive skull studies and apparently the elongated skulls of Akhenaten and Nefertiti's daughters portrayed in Amarna art were also exaggerated. Unlike the Mayans, the Egyptians may have admired an unusually shaped head but they did not attempt skull binding to create it.

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Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet   Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation   The Amarna Letters

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