Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Mummified proportionate dwarfs from the Valley of the Kings - The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology

Mummified proportionate dwarfs from the Valley of the Kings

Published:February 05, 2019DOI:

Proportionate dwarfism represents a form of harmonically short stature (lower than 150 cm), mostly caused by congenital deficiencies of the pituitary gland. The condition is well known in the modern world, but its antiquity is far from clarified. Three cases have so far been reported: a female skeleton from the 4th century CE in Roman Britain, and two more from the Americas. Regarding Ancient Egypt, there are some controversial or insufficiently substantiated diagnoses, including in the remains of Seneb (described by John Garstang [1876–1956] in 1907, and dating back to the end of the fifth dynasty, circa 2400 BCE), in a skeleton from the tomb complex of King Djer (first dynasty, circa 2980 BCE), and in nine abnormal skulls from the third dynasty (circa 2700 BCE). The sole almost certain documented case of proportionate dwarfism in Ancient Egypt was anthropometrically assessed in the skeleton of a woman, dead in her 30s, from the Dakhleh Oasis (Third Intermediate Period, circa 1000 BCE).
In this Correspondence, we present two sets of mummified body parts belonging to two different individuals from tomb KV40, in the Valley of the Kings (Egypt). This rock tomb was first accessed in 2011, by the Kings' Valley Project of the University of Basel (Basel, Switzerland) and contained, apart from the human remains, a large number of fragments from the plundered ancient burial goods: pottery, textiles, fragments of wooden coffins, faience, and stone vessels. Tomb KV40 was originally used for members of the family and entourage of pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390–1353 BCE) and reused some 500 years later by local priestly families. More than 80 individuals were buried in this tomb. Most of them had received high-quality mummification and burial goods in accordance with their status and period (wooden coffins, pottery storage jars, and cartonnage masks or containers). The remains in our study can belong to either of the two phases during which the tomb was used: the 18th dynasty (circa 1400–1450 BCE) or the 22nd to 25th dynasties (circa 850–700 BCE). The first set of mummified remains (thorax, abdomen, pelvic girdle, left arm, and right leg) are of a child's body of indeterminate sex, aged approximately 7 years (inventory number KV_40_0103_0107_0313_0324; figure A and C), whereas the second set consists of partly mummified femora and right tibia belonging to a subadult individual of indeterminate sex and aged approximately 12 years [inventory number KV40_0253; figure E). Anthropometric evaluation and palaeo-radiological (in situ X-ray) assessment (figure B, D, and F) indicate that both sets of remains have substantially shorter statures than the average for their age, as estimated on the basis of bone morphology; the first dwarf, in particular, is about 40 cm shorter than a 7–9-year-old healthy individual would be (appendix).
Dwarfism in Ancient Egypt was well known, as witnessed by several artworks, although the perception of proportionate dwarfism is still not clarified because of scarce sources and the potential misinterpretation of proportionate dwarfs as central African pygmies (of naturally short stature), whose presence in Ancient Egypt is, however, purely derived from literary references. The present metaphyseal alterations of these two cases are typical, among others, of proportionate dwarfism, and make pygmies as a differential diagnosis unlikely. Our unique findings, potentially older than the woman from the Dakhleh Oasis that was previously reported, help to highlight the high social status of proportionate dwarfs in Ancient Egypt—strengthened by the evidence of anthropogenic mummification and the burial among either members of the royal family (18th dynasty) or the priestly elite (22nd to 25th dynasty)—and catalyse a discussion on the evolution of discrimination based on disability, of remarkable relevance for modern societies and medicine.
We declare no competing interests. SM and FMG contributed equally. We wish to thank Maciej Henneberg (University of Adelaide Medical School, Australia & Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland) for precious clinical and anthropological suggestions. We also wish to express our gratitude for funding to the Mäxi Foundation (Zurich, Switzerland), University of Zurich, Basel University, and private sponsors (Basel, Switzerland). Special thanks go to the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, the Egyptian Ministry of State of Antiquities, and its numerous officers who supported and accompanied our research.

Supplementary Material


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