Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep

One of the most fascinating aspects of archaeology is toppling old assumptions.

That is exactly what has happened regarding some famously mysterious wall art in the necropolis of Saqqara near the Sphinx and great pyramids at Giza in Egypt.

Discovered in 1964, the images seem to show two men embracing. Their names – Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep -- are inscribed above the images. No strangers to archaeologists, the men were the chief manicurists of a king who ruled from 2380 to 2320 B.C. during the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom.

It was extremely rare for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing. What’s more, in other scenes they are shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the preferred form of kissing in ancient Egypt.

So what to make of all of this?

There are two prevailing interpretations:

* The men were brothers and perhaps identical twins.

* The men were homosexuals, a view that has gained support among gay advocates.

Now comes David O’Connor, a New York University Egyptologist, to topple those assumptions.

It’s really very simple, he says:
My suggestion is that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were indeed twins, but of a very special sort. They were conjoined twins, and it was this physical perculiarity that prompted many depictions of them hand-holding or embracing in their tomb-chapel.

No comments: