Saturday, January 26, 2008

Amarna's Dead Suggest Brutal Akhetaten

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that the Old Kingdom great Pyramids of Dynastic Egypt were the product of mass slave labor. There were several reasons that this idea was popular, ranging from the understable awe at the task, to stereotypes of the oriental despot, to the bondage described in the Old Testament.

Archaeological excavation has revealed otherwise, that gangs of professional laborers were a major factor in the construction of the Pyramids. But it now seems that there was one Pharoah that ruled in this manner: Akhenaten. to briefly summarize, Amenhotep IV of the 18th Dynasty became the head of a cult of the sun disk, Aten, changed his name to Akhenaten and built a new capital city, Akhetaten. Here, he and his family acted as intermediaries between the Aten and the world, in part by ending worship of the other gods. Akhenaten was swept from historical records and his city abandoned not long after his death.

In much of the 20th century, Akhenaten was a heroic or enlightened figure to many Western scholars and writers, his monotheism a sign of what was to come. He has been linked by modern occult and alternative theorists to Moses (also here). But more recently, the cult of the Pharaoh and his god, of royal military processions and a radical break with the past have led some investigators to view the Amarna period as one of revolutionary dictatorship. Now, osteological evidence from Amarna suggests that the inhabitants were extremely unhealthy and worked into an early grave during construction of the city.

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