Pharaoh's Unusual Feminine Appearance Suggests Two Gene Defects

May 20, 2008
Pharaoh’s Unusual Feminine Appearance Suggests Two Gene Defects
From Aldred C., Akhenaten and Nefertiti: A Studio Book and Catalogue. The Brooklyn Museum in association with the Viking Press, New York, 1973, Fig. 10 in Studio Book.

The feminine features and elongated head of ancient Egypt’s King Akhenaten may be attributed to two genetic defects called aromatose excess syndrome and craniosynostosis, said Yale School of Medicine dermatology professor Irwin Braverman, M.D.

Because no mummy of Akhenaten exists, Braverman used only artwork of the ancient pharaoh to make his medical diagnosis. He presented his theories during the 14th annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference (CPC) at University of Maryland Medical School.

Akhenaten, a pharaoh during Egypt’s 18th Dynasty credited with starting the practice of worshipping one God, fathered six children. He was often portrayed in sculptures and carvings with a thin neck, elongated head, large buttocks, breasts, and even a prominent belly, suggesting pregnancy.

It may be possible to confirm his diagnoses, Braverman said, by conducting genetic tests on the five relevant mummies of Akhenaten’s relatives. “DNA taken from the bone marrow could reveal the presence of the gene defects,” he said.

Aromatose excess syndrome can lead to feminine features in men and advanced sexual development in girls. Akhenaten’s daughters are depicted with breasts at age three and seven in some carvings.

Braverman explains that Akhenaten’s elongated head could be due to the gene defect causing craniosynostosis, in which the fibrous joints of the head fuse at an early age and disrupt the process of skull formation. Braverman said that a number of Akhenaten’s relatives—including his daughters, and two other 18th-Dynasty rulers, Queen Hatshepsut and King Tut—all had cranial abnormalities that mimicked craniosynostosis.

Akhenaten’s feminine physical attributes have yet to be fully explained, but Braverman urges Egyptologists to explore his theory.

In 1997, Braverman developed a class, that is now required at Yale and over a dozen medical schools, to help medical students sharpen their observational skills. The students observe highly detailed works of art at a museum and then describe what they saw. This technique has been shown to improve observational skills for patient diagnosis.

Source: Yale University

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The culinary habits of the Stonehenge builders

October 13, 2015

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.5 / 5 (4) May 20, 2008
Or.. It was considered cool in ancient egypt to depict the humans in such way. ;)
3.8 / 5 (4) May 20, 2008
The artwork from the Amarna period (google armana art) was generally more effeminate, but with so much inbreeding this is quite possible.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.