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Skeletons of two possible eunuchs discovered in Egypt

At the recent excavations at the Ptolemaic-Roman site in Quesna, located in the Nile Delta region, a group of researchers discovered two skeletons of individuals who might have been eunuchs, according to a report released by Forbes.

Skeletons of two possible eunuchs discovered in Egypt
Skeleton B21 from Ptolemaic era Quesna, Egypt. With its immature bones and tall stature, this individual 
might have been intersex [Credit: Sonia Zakrzewski/University of Southampton]
The team of archaeologists, comprised of Scott Haddow from the University of Bordeaux, Sonia Zakrzwski from the University of Southampton and Joanne Rowland from the University of Edinburgh, highlighted the two unusual burials out of 151 total interments at Quesna at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists conference last week.

The team said the method in which the two skeletons were buried and the skeletal irregularities, including above-average height, might indicate a congenital condition rather than castration.

According to the report, Haddow and his colleagues began to suspect these individuals that they were possibly eunuchs because castration before the onset of puberty typically results in people who are tall and slender with broad hips, narrow shoulders, and a sunken chest.

The first skeleton, named B21, was an adolescent of indeterminate sex from the Ptolemaic Era; its burial was oriented differently as the skeleton’s head was directed south, rather than oriented north as was typical of that period of time. The researchers noticed that most of the skeleton's bones are extremely immature, including the growth plates of the limb bones which indicates that the person was taller than average, even though they were not fully grown.

Skeletons of two possible eunuchs discovered in Egypt
Archaeologist Scott Haddow excavating B26, a potentially intersex individual from
 Roman-era Quesna, Egypt [Credit: Sonia Zakrzewski/University of Southampton]
The second skeleton B26 was also an adolescent and its sex was not known. It dates back to the Roman Era and was buried in a collective tomb; it was also much taller than average with completely unfused growth plates.

“Although there are few skeletal studies of individuals known to have been castrated, those that exist – such as of the Italian castrati Farinelli and Pacchierotti – also reveal incompletely fused long bones, tall stature, and osteoporosis,” the report said.

Haddow and his colleagues said B21's burial pattern was completely different to the norm, while B26's was smilliar to others. “Both the orientation of the grave and the artifacts included in it may 'reflect societal recognition of this individual’s conspicuous intersex status,' which could be the result of pre-pubertal castration but might also reflect a condition such as Klinefelter Syndrome or aromatase deficiency,” the report said.

“Perhaps B26's condition did not result in visibly ambiguous sexual characteristics,” the researchers suggest.

Haddow and colleagues concluded that “the combination of eunuchoid body habitus, unfused epiphyses and osteoporosis can occur as the result of either genetic or culturally induced endocrine disorders. “Until DNA testing is done, though, “it is difficult to establish the etiology of the skeletal features observed in the affected Quesna individuals with any degree of certainty,” the report said.

Source: Egypt Independent [May 03, 2017]

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