Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meditations on Akhenaten's skull

In a previous post entitled "Tutankhamun's DNA," we saw evidence that modern DNA testing undertaken just within the past few years appears to have established what scholars have previously suspected: that Tutankhamun is Akhenaten's biological son.

As we saw in that and other posts discussing the tomb of Tutankhamun, one reason that tomb's discovery is so important is the fact that it is the only known tomb which contained the undisturbed mummy of a pharaoh. While the tomb had been apparently raided twice shortly after his burial, the robbers apparently stole some items from the antechamber and left the burial chamber undisturbed. The tomb was resealed and forgotten, with no human trespasser for over thirty-two centuries.

The mummy of Akhenaten was not so unmolested. His remains, which were found in 1907, had been moved to a small unfinished tomb in the Valley of the Kings known today as KV55 and several decades later his sarcophagus was apparently desecrated, its golden face torn off and his identifying name cartouche erased from the hieroglyhpic inscriptions (an image of the defaced coffin can be seen in the Wikipedia entry for KV55).

The discolored skeleton has, however, furnished DNA samples which apparently confirm the body as Akhenaten, the son of Amenhotep III and the father of Tutankhamun. This video shows the results of DNA testing done in early 2010.

Akhenaten's remains are the source of some controversy, because depictions of the pharaoh in art created during his lifetime show him with abnormal features, sometimes including feminine hips and breasts, leading some to speculate that he may have suffered from a variety of proposed diseases or syndromes, which also may have been present in other pharaohs of his dynasty. Articles have appeared in medical journals discussing medical possibilities based mainly upon this artwork (see for instance here and here).

However, we must be very careful about making medical diagnoses based upon Egyptian artwork, especially in light of the careful arguments advanced by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz and John Anthony West, who demonstrate that Egyptian art was very symbolic and often used anatomical features to illustrate abstract principles (such as depicting gods or humans as having either two right hands or two left hands to illustrate the active principle or the receptive principle, as John Anthony West discusses in Serpent in the Sky, pages 98 and following).

Further, detailed forensic anthropology examinations of the skeletal remains from KV55 done by Joyce M. Filer, a curator in the department of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, found no obvious signs of wide hips (on the contrary, she says "The pelvic basin or girdle is small and its lack of width rules against its matching the generous dimensions exhibited in some of Akhenaten's statues"). She also finds that the bones are "not overly robust" but also "not delicate or feminine as some researchers have claimed."

Perhaps most interesting is her assertion that the skeleton appears to be youthful, of a man perhaps in his twenties and not over twenty-five. She also makes the comment that "Although the fading and obliteration of the sutures holding the bones of the skull together is an unreliable indicator of age by itself, I think it is worth noting that this skull presents no signs of this; it would be expected if the individual were significantly older."

This statement is interesting because Irwin M. Braverman MD, who has authored many of the articles which argue that Akhenaten suffered from aromatase excess syndrome and from craniosynostosis, apparently first became curious about possible disease in Akhenaten when he noticed unusual aspects of the cranial sutures in photographs of Akhenaten's skull. This Yale University web article relates that Dr. Braverman, who is a dermatologist and a Yale University professor of dermatology, was observing images of the skull and "skeletal pictures of Akhenaten's skull and he observed that a suture was open. These sutures usually close two years after birth."

If this account is accurate about the sutures in the skull of the remains that scientists believe to belong to Akhenaten (and the video series linked above also mentions that the sutures of his skull appear to have been quite loose), then it raises some interesting possibilities other than pathology.

We have previously discussed some evidence that certain aspects of ancient Egyptian belief seem to have been directly preserved in Buddhist monasticism in China and other places east of Egypt. With this in mind, it seems very significant that certain lines of Esoteric Taoism teach that the sutures of the skull are extremely important, and that cultivation of meditative practices and internal energy can actually cause them to loosen.

For example, Taoist master Mantak Chia has authored numerous books which discuss the bones of the skull and the importance of the sutures. See, for example, the illustration on page 111 of his book Taoist Astral Healing: Chi Kung Healing Practices Using Star and Planet Energies. There and in the pages preceding and following it he explains the Taoist connections between the five major bones of the upper skull (frontal, sphenoid, left and right parietal, and occipital).

In Cosmic Healing II: Taoist Cosmology and Universal Healing Connections, he says: "The whole cranial system is a big antenna and transmitter of information to all the different energy levels in the body. [. . .] The suture lines in the cranial system form zigzag pointed protrusions that have a function in receiving stellar vibrations. From these structures, subtle energy information channels spread out through the whole body" (177-178). Before dismissing such assertions as "unscientific" or "unproven," recall the previous post pointing to recent studies that appear to confirm that very experienced monks are able to turn on massive amounts of brain gamma waves which untrained brains are not able to generate.

Mr. Chia also writes elsewhere that "the sutures atop the skull of advanced adepts often loosen. [. . .] The practices advocated herein may allow one to regain part of the prodigious learning and regenerative powers of the child. The only humans with loose skull sutures are the evolved adept and the infant" (Taoist Secrets of Love, 125).

That statement about "the only humans with loose skull sutures" is striking, given what doctors who have examined Akhenaten's skull seem to report. While some seek to assign a pathological condition to Akhenaten, is it possible that he was not diseased at all but was practicing techniques which would later be preserved within the esoteric knowledge of Taoism?

The ancient Egyptians were certainly aware of the skull sutures, and in fact R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz noted the similarity in form between the ubiquitous Egyptian depictions of the scarab and the sutures of the human skull when viewed from above (see image above, as well as discussion in John Anthony West's Serpent in the Sky, page 97). In light of this connection, the Egyptians may well have had an inkling of the importance that Taoism also teaches regarding the sutures in the skull.

These connections are fascinating to consider.