SENEB – A Dwarf in Egypt

SENEB - A Dwarf in Egypt

Seneb was a 4th or early 5th Dynasty dwarf and was chief of the royal wardrobe and priest of the funerary cults of Khufu. A statue still exists of him and it depicts him with his family – including his wife who was of normal stature. Also, the Egyptian gods Bes and Ptah were often depicted as dwarves. To say that dwarves were accepted and often revered members of ancient Egyptian society would be an understatement.

Amenemope at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.E. set down laws to protect those born different from the norm:

‘Mock not the blind nor deride the dwarf nor block the cripple’s path; don’t tease a man made ill by a god nor make outcry when he blunders.’

Dwarfism was unusually common in ancient Egypt – in fact, over 150 mummified dwarves and skeletons are currently in museum collections and scenes depicting dwarfs often adorned tomb walls. The reason for this is quite simple. The specific form of dwarfism that was present was achondroplasia – which is one of many forms of dwarfism. But Achondroplasia, which is characterized by abnormal bone growth that results in short stature with disproportionately short arms and legs, a large head, and characteristic facial features, is a dominant genetic mutation – thus there is a 50% chance of passing the trait to offspring. Considering the fact that Egypt was a closed society for quite some time and the total acceptance of dwarfs, the chance for these individuals to procreate without prejudice was favorable.

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