A team of researchers has determined the weapon that caused the death of three Egyptian soldiers at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, around 1500 B.C., during the expansion of the Egyptian empire. This discovery has allowed for the establishment of possible scenarios in which these aggressions occurred.

The research, led by the University of Jaén, has included the collaboration of Dr. Ángel Rubio Salvador, along with other researchers from the University of Granada and the New Museum of the Egyptian Civilization (Cairo). The results have been published in the prestigious journal International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

From the paleoanthropological study of the recovered cranial remains, the weapon used during these acts of interpersonal violence has been identified. It is a curved sword known as a khepesh, a weapon used by both the Egyptians and the Canaanite populations of that time.

An Egyptian khepesh
An Egyptian khepesh. Credit: A. Guimarey Duarte et al. / IPHES

This sword, which measured around half a meter and weighed just over half a kilogram, leaves specific marks that appear as notches at the ends of the bone edges.

This finding is significant because it indicates that these young soldiers probably died more than a thousand kilometers from where they were finally buried.

It is the first time it has been confirmed that the Egyptians transported their military casualties from the battlefield to their place of origin. This way, the deceased could be buried in a tomb where their families could perform funeral rites, says Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano, co-author of the article and a doctor in Egyptology at the University of Jaén.

Skulls analyzed in the study
Skulls analyzed in the study. Credit: A. Guimarey Duarte et al. / IPHES

The injuries were clearly observed in three skulls belonging to young males, aged between 20 and 25 years, who had multiple perimortem wounds. One of the skulls had up to nine injuries, suggesting evident brutality by the aggressor. The three soldiers were buried in the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa, located near the modern city of Aswan. Since 2008, a research team from the University of Jaén, led by Dr. Alejandro Jiménez Serrano, has been directing a project in this necropolis.

Although the individuals were buried in different tombs within the necropolis, their deaths coincided with the conquest of the Delta by the pharaohs of Thebes and the subsequent expansion towards Canaan. This finding not only sheds light on aspects of ancient Egyptian military and funerary practices but also provides concrete evidence of the brutality of the conflicts of the time.

This research project has been carried out within the framework of the Ministry of Science and Innovation Project HAR2016–75533-P and the Juan de la Cierva research contract JDC2022–049955-I. Excavations in the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan have been funded by the Palarq and Gaselec Foundations, the Spanish Association of Egyptology, and the Egyptology Chair of the University of Jaén, with the support of the Calderón Group.


Institut Català de Paleoecología Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) | R. Guimarey Duarte, A. Rubio Salvador, et al., Cranial injuries in ancient Egypt: Three cases of interpersonal violence in the dynastic necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa (Aswan, Egypt). International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, doi.org/10.1002/oa.3301

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