Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Douglas Bamforth

Second Advisor

Travis Rupp

Third Advisor

Carla Jones

Abstract

This thesis expands on the ongoing inquiry into the unusual life of the pharaoh Akhenaten. Amongst the incongruities of his reign, the central deity known as the Aten has been one of the most elusive and heavily debated. The relationship between the pharaoh and the Aten was clearly central to much of the oddity of his reign, affecting the visual depiction of the pharaoh and the many alterations to the notion of kingship Akhenaten implemented. However, no clear understanding of Akhenaten or the Aten exists. Recent excavations at Amarna have allowed for a clearer view into these unanswered questions. It was previously believed that Akhenaten was motivated by religious zealotry and heresy resulting in his damnation of memory. Data from recent excavations point towards an alternate view of Akhenaten’s motivations. Bones exhumed from the South Tombs Cemetery show signs of malnutrition and disease, and environmental data show a decrease in inundation and pollen levels. The Amarna Letters confirm cultural contact between the Mitanni and the 18th Dynasty, as well as the influx of Near Eastern deities into Egypt. The combination of these factors demonstrates a possible alternate explanation for Akhenaten’s actions. In this thesis, it is argued that Aten worship was a synthesis of Mesopotamian notions of cosmologically abstracted fertility deities and the Egyptian sun god, Ra. The shift of the capital, theology, and depiction of the royal family were in response to a time of disease and famine, with the king’s body and deity being a propagandist tool to maintain control under the threat of collapse.