Original paper published in American Journal of Physcial Anthropology: Body height of mummified pharaohs supports historical suggestions of sibling marriages AJPA online


Body height is considered to be a vital factor in studying health conditions of past times and as an indicator for socio-economic status . Body height is higly determined by heredity (up to 80-90% of body height variance is determined by genetics). The mating preferences are determined by a combination of biology and socio-economic factors, and pychology , e.g. the ‚male-taller-norm‘. Only few anthropological studies for ancient Egypt are known (Zakrzewski 2003) for the general population from Predynastic time to the Middle Kingdom and Robis and Shute (1983) on Body height of the Pharaoh’s from the 18-19. Dynasty. These studies were a valuable base for the new study, ranging from Predynastic to Greco-Roman Period (c. 3200 BC to c. 250 AD) including all known data from Kings, Queens, Highpriest of Amun and other members of the Royal families.

Material and Method

259 Egyptian mummies with known body height were analyzed (116 female and 143 males); children were excluded since they not have reached their full body height.The measurements are either an overall measurment of the mummy or calculatios using long bone formulae. Whenever possible both methods were combined. The relaiablity of long bone formulae for ancient Egypt were also tested: Especially Pearson (1899) correlates very well with the overall lenght.

Results and Discussion

The Royal families of Egypt are knwon from historical soucres that they frequently married close relatives, especially siblings or half-sibling in imitation of the Gods (Bixler 1982). Recently genetic testing of the parents of Tutankhamun were revealed to be siblings (Hawass et al. 2010). Since body height is higly heredity and imbreeding produces a reduction of genotypic variation, it is possible to compare the standard deviation (SD) of height within the Royal familes in comparison to the general population pool. While the average population has a normal SD of 8.6 (New Kingdom) and SD 7.14 (3rd Intermediate Period) the Royals are significantly reduced: The Ahmoside family scores SD 3.21, the Thutmosides SD 3.36 and the Ramessides SD 4.07. The Sethnakhtides reached the level of SD 6.03. The body height variation of the Kings was significantly reduced, most Kings are taller than the average man in New Kingdom. The average height of male population in Ancient Egypt varies between 161 cm in the New Kingdom and 169.6 cm in the Early Dynastic time. Females have a range between 155.6 cm in the Late Period and 159.5 cm in the Early Dynastic time. The peak of height was reached for females in the Old Kingdom with an average height of 159.6 cm.

Some data from the Royal families

Following body height was measured or / and calculated by long bone measurements: The direct measurement of Thutmosis III revealed a short stature of only 150 cm (but without taking the missing feet in account). The real body height of Thutmosis III, calculated from his long bones, makes him a tall man of c. 168 cm. Robins and Shute (1983) calculated a height of 170 cm. King Amenhotep III, famous for his gigantic monuments and statues was an unusually small King (156 - 160 cm). His principal wife, Queen Tiye was even smaller with only 146 cm. His son, heretic King Akhenaton (the KV 55 mummy) was calculated from his long bones. He was c. 167 - 168 cm tall. His sister-wife and mother of Tutankhamun (probably Queen Nefertiti) was 158 cm. For Tutankhamun a wide range of body height reconstructions are availiable: 161 cm (Leek 1972); 159 cm (Harrison and Abdalla 1972); 170 cm (Hawass et al. 2007) or 167 cm (Hawass et al. 2010). Based on the long bones Robins and Shute (1983) reconstucted a living height of c. 169 cm. The presented study calculated a body height of c. 167 cm. While most Kings are taller than the male population of their time, many Queens are often smaller than the average women. Queen Nefertari-merj-em-Mut was exceptionally tall with c. 165 cm, but the man-taller-norm is still active since Ramses II was one of the tallest Kings (c. 173 - 175 cm).

Further reading:

  • Habicht ME, Henneberg M, Öhrström LM, Staub K, Rühli FJ. Body Height of Mummified Pharaohs Supports Historical Suggestions of Sibling Mariages. AJPA Vol X (X) 20105, p. x-x.
  • Article in AJPA online
  • Robins G, Shute CCD. The physical proportions and living stature if New Kingdom pharaohs. J. Hum. Evol. 12 (1983) p. 455-465
  • Zakrzewski SR. Variation in ancient Egyptian stature and body proportions. AJPA 121 (2003) p. 219-229
  • Bixler RH. Sibling Incest in the Royal Families of Egypt, Peru, and Hawaii. J. Sex. Res. 18 (1982) p. 264-281
  • Zahi Hawass et al. Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s family: In: JAMA 303/7, February 2010, S. 638-647.
  • Ikram S, Dodson A. They Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity. Thames and Hudson, London.
  • Sheppard JA, Strathman AJ. Attractiveness and height: The role of stature in dating preference, frequency of dating and perceptions of attractiveness. Personal Soc. Psychol. Bull. 15 (1989) p. 617-627
  • Pierce CA. Body Height and Romantic Attraction: A Meta-Analythic Tes Of The Male-Taller Norm. Soc. Behav. Personal. an Internat. Journal 24 (1996) p. 143-149
  • Harris, James E. et al. An X-Ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies (1980). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago und London.
  • Harris JE, Weeks KR, X-Raying the Pharaohs (1973). Charles Scriber’s Sons, USA.
  • Smith GE, Royal Mummies (1912; reprint 2000 Duckworth, London).
  • Habicht, ME, Das Imperaiale Ägypten.Die Geschichte des Neuen Reiches und der dritten Zwischenzeit. (2014, Berlin, epubli. ISBN 978-3737507899)
  • Dodson A, Hilton D, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt (2004, London, Thames and Hudson)
  • Various catalogues from museums (Berlin, Turin, London, Leiden)