Sunday, May 17, 2009

Royal diagnosis

Yale Alumni Magazine (Bruce Fellman)

Thanks very much to Carole Bass for sending me this link. As far as I can tell Braverman hasn't added anything that he hasn't already said in previous papers but I haven't read the paper that ths report describes. The original paper appeared in The Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol 150, Issue 8. If you are interested in reading it, it is available for purchase on their website. If you want to see previous posts on Braverman's research just type "Braverman" into the blog's search engine.

Akhenaten, who ruled Egypt from around 1353 BCE to 1336 BCE, was married to the legendary beauty Nefertiti. But Akhenaten himself "was definitely a funny-looking pharaoh," says Irwin M. Braverman, a Yale dermatologist whose avocation is applying medical analysis to art history. In every known portrait, "he's depicted as having breasts, a lantern jaw, and an oddly elongated head."

Some Egyptologists have theorized that Akhenaten's unusually androgynous features are metaphorical, symbolizing his belief that he embodied the creator deity. But in general, Egyptian art was more naturalistic in Akhenaten's time than at other periods. And the more Braverman studied images of the pharaoh, his son and daughters, and earlier members of the 18th Dynasty, the more he became convinced they were accurate portraits of people who shared an obscure genetic abnormality.

In the April 21 Annals of Internal Medicine, Braverman and his colleagues argue that the unusual breast and hip development in these 18th Dynasty men and young girls is best explained by aromatase excess syndrome -- a genetic abnormality that results in too much estrogen in the body. (It could also account for the pharaoh's voice, described as beautiful and feminine.) Braverman attributes the elongation of Akhenaten's and his relatives' heads to a second genetic defect.

See the above page for more.


Scrabcake said...

Oh, no! Not again!

Kate Phizackerley said...

It seems unlikely to me for a number of reasons.

An inherited genetic condition caused by a chromosomal mutation would presumably crop up in more then Akhenaten. We don't believe he had sons, but we do believe he had brothers and he certainly had a royal father (Amenhotep III). None of these seem to display the same symptoms so it's hard to reconcile that with an inherited genetic condition.

I can't find out quickly whether aromatase excess syndrome is recessive or not but given the inter-marriage within the royal family at that time, you'd have expected at least some of his daughers to have inherited the condition as well even if it were recessive. There is no sign that they did. Yes, potentially they did have early menarche if records are to be believed but there is no depcition of large breasts caused by excessive oestrogen.

Personally I don't find this a convincing theory. If the cause of his physical condition was genetic I would personally suspect something like Kleinfelter's Sydrome (although most males are infertile I am not sure that is certainly the case - usually though it is argued he couldn't ave suffered from Kleinfelter's), or mosaicism of some form - such conditions are not normally inheritable as gametes will carry only one X or Y chromosome. Even Kallman's Syndrome seems more likely to me than aromatase excess syndrome, although the same comments about Kallmans not being observed elsewhere in the royal family are relevant.