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Discovery of Previously Unknown Pharaoh Confirms Existence of Lost Dynasty

Jan 17, 2014 12:32 PM EST

Archaeologists have uncovered the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh in the Egyptian site Abydos, located more than 300 miles south of Cairo.

According to the researchers, the pharaoh, known as Woseribre Senebkay, represents the first physical evidence of the short-lived Abydos Dynasty, which lasted from about 1650-1600 BC.

The archaeologists included a team from the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Museum working in cooperation with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Together, the researchers discovered the tomb not far from a larger one only recently identified as probably belonging to Sobekhotep I, who reigned during the 13th Dynasty around 1780 BC.

The newly discovered tomb dates back to about 1650 BC and contains four limestone chambers whose walls bear the images of goddesses such as Nut, Selket and Isis. Although badly plundered, the researchers were able to uncover a text, which read: "king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Woseribre, the son of Re, Senebkay."

Senebkay's body lay in pieces, ripped apart by tomb robbers. By reassembling the parts scattered throughout, however, the researchers determined the pharaoh stood about 5 feet 10 inches tall and died in his late to mid 40s.

That Abydos existed as an independent dynasty at the same time as the Hyksos and Theban dynasties was hypothesized in 1997 by Egyptologist K. Ryholt. But while the theory has proven accurate, Abydos does not appear to have exactly flourished. The chest constructed to house Senebkay's internal organs was made of cedar wood taken from Sobekhotep I's tomb - the wood still bearing the name of the earlier pharaoh.

In all, the researchers say they've uncovered evidence for some 16 royal tombs dating back to 1650-1600 BC. 

"It's exciting to find not just the tomb of one previously unknown pharaoh, but the necropolis of an entire forgotten dynasty," said Josef Wegner, a researcher from Penn Museum and the one who led the discovery. "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."

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