When we hear the name "Akhenaten", more than likely for many of us, the first image of the pharaoh that comes to mind is one similar to those displayed on the statues below:
The consistency with which each of the sculptures above portray the Pharaoh's face, like for example, the way the statues display a personality with a rather long slender face, obviously plays a role in image stamped into folks' minds about the pharaoh. The images are consistent in the way the Pharaoh's cheek bones manifest, the aforementioned long and slender face, the eye-shapes, the nose and lips. Such artistic consistency has even enticed anthropologists to link the Pharaoh to skeletal remains that they feel conforms to the long facial profile seen the New Kingdom statues. Such consistency may even suggest that the images are capturing the pharaoh when he was alive, and in light of such matters, it may be seen as a dismissive one but the question is: Is this what the living Pharaoh would have really looked like?
The following images however, may question the prospect that the pharaoh sported that characteristic long face that we all recognize. These are also images that generally see relatively less circulation in the Internet when compared to the examples posted above, thereby giving the impression that the latter are the ones out there about the Pharaoh. Take a look:
In these figurines, it is hard to miss the rounder and shorter facial profile of Akhenaten. The feminine-like abdomen and protruding belly, the artistic convention that took hold under the Pharaoh, have been retained for this rendering, but the long chin and slender face are gone, including the pseudo "divine" goatee. Unlike many of the sculptures seen of the Pharaoh, the figurine features skin tone rendering. Some observers have opined that the couple as portrayed here, may have been in the later years—i.e. their more mature years. What the said observers base such assessment on, isn't entirely clear, other than to perhaps assume that in the case of Akhenaten, the rounder facial profile might have something to do with it. This rounder and shorter facial profile is by no means an aberration or an anomaly, as it recurs in other possibly lesser known sculptures of the pharaoh...
Note the chin profile on either of the above sculptures; the chin is not as prominent as those found in the examples posted at the top of this page. The faces are also "fuller" and hence, more rounded in their profile. There are more examples of this theme...
More "rounder"-faced Akhenaten renderings...
At this point, with enough examples given, showing a person with a fairly long and slender face, along with a goatee, on the one hand, and those with shorter, perhaps more rounded facial profile, while lacking a goatee, on the other hand, one might ask, then which representations are the closest estimation of the then living pharaoh?!
One might turn to the whole sum of the individual statues for some clues. One can't help but notice that the examples shown above, displaying what some call "elongated" facial profile, along with the pseudo [royal/divine] goatee, almost always have some regalia in their hands, to the extent that the post-cranial portions of their body are in view. The pseudo-goatee alone on these renderings may suggest a measure of some idealization theme about them. The feminine-like abdomen profile with a somewhat protruding belly noticeably falls in that direction [idealization or symbolism]. That is just about one of the few features that we notice on statues sporting the long facial structure and pseudo-goatee and on some of those sporting the rounder and/or shorter facial structure without a pseudo-goatee. Note that only one example among the few sculptures with the beardless shorter face displays this theme, and it is the one that interesting also displays the seated Pharaoh holding regalia in one of his hands—the statue in "yellow" tone, which was described by one author as that of Akhenaten as "a young man". The figurine of the Pharaoh standing side by side with his wife [claimed to be Nefertiti], and the example showing the pharaoh at least up to his chest area, do not sport the pharaoh holding any regalia in his hands at all, nor do they sport the characteristic 'divine' goatee; they do however, retain crowns or royal "soft" head gears. Such smaller details may suggest that the examples with longer faces and goatee had been given relatively more idealization, as sanctioned by the Pharaoh himself. The face, while it may in some ways have stayed true to the living figure, had been exaggerated in a caricature sort of way, as done in political cartoons of ruling and political figures of today, resulting in the somewhat unusually long slender face, exacerbated by the fairly prominent chin that is flanked by a pseudo-goatee. To this end, even the ears of the long-faced statues with goatee seem somewhat more exaggerated in their shape and size than the counterparts with shorter and beardless faces.
It has been noted earlier that some researchers have been influenced by the statues of Akhenaten sporting the long face and pseudo-goatee to assign certain remains (mummy) to the pharaoh. Edward Wente of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is one such example that comes to mind. He notes...
The craniofacial morphology of the mummy labeled Amenhotep III also made it difficult to place in the position he should occupy as son of Thutmose IV. Of the mummies in the collection only the one supposed to be Amenhotep II is a suitable candidate to have been the father of the Amenhotep III mummy. Over the years Jim became increasingly intrigued by the Amenhotep III mummy, because it is one of the most severely battered of the royal mummies, having suffered postmortem injuries of a very violent nature, more than what tomb-robbers generally inflicted upon the mummies in search of precious items. Since the publication of the x-ray atlas further study of this mummy has been undertaken by Jim and Dr. Fawzia Hussein, Director of the Anthropological Laboratory of the National Research Center, Cairo; and it has been ascertained that the skull is two standard deviations too large for his body, and its craniofacial characteristics are consonant with sculptured portraits of Akhenaten.
The advantage of this shuffling of the mummies is that the close clustering of the mummies of Thutmose IV, Smenkhkare, and Tutankhamun is maintained. If as some have proposed, the skeleton from KV 55 is Akhenaten's and not Smenkhkare's, we would then have a nice father-son-grandson succession: Amenhotep III (represented by the Thutmose IV mummy), Akhenaten (the skeleton from KV 55), and Tutankhamun. The unusual mummy labeled Amenhotep III might then be identified with King Aye, Tutankhamun's successor (Scheme 1). A variant of this reconstruction is to take the skeleton from KV 55 as Smenkhkare's rather than Akhenaten's, in which case Smenkhkare and Tutankhamun would be brothers and either grandsons or sons of Amenhotep III, represented by the mummy labeled Thutmose IV (Scheme 2).
The weaknesses of either of these two genealogical reconstructions is that the Thutmose IV mummy is one of the better identified ones, with dockets inscribed both on his mummy and coffin. Moreover, the sequence Amenhotep II - Thutmose IV is biologically less probable than the reverse when taking into consideration the craniofacial characteristics of the entire Thutmoside line. Finally, the striking similarity of the Amenhotep III mummy to sculptured portraits of Akhenaten is not explicable if this mummy is identified as Aye's.
There is a third, more radical solution to this puzzle that deserves consideration (Scheme 3).Bearing in mind that the most probable sequence of the mummies from the viewpoint of inheritance of craniofacial characteristics is the sequence of the mummies labeled Thutmose IV, Amenhotep II, and Amenhotep III (in fact only the Amenhotep II mummy provides a suitable father to the Amenhotep III mummy),we have suggested that the Thutmose IV mummy is indeed Thutmose IV, that the Amenhotep II mummy is that of Amenhotep III, and the Amenhotep III mummy is that of Akhenaten. - Edwarde F. Wente, Who Was Who Among The Royal Mummies, 1995.
Clearly Edward Wente and his research partner James Harris see the mummy identified as "Amenhotep III" as more likely that of Akhenaten. They had been reportedly aided in that assessment by the facial structure of the "Amenhotep III" mummy, which they say is more in line with "sculptured portraits" of Akhenaten, and by: "the skull is two standard deviations too large for his body". Thus, by their own admission, the mummy that has been nominally assigned to Akhenaten did not really invoke the sort of image as that is seen on the "long-faced" sculptures of the pharaoh. Instead, from their assessment, the "Amenhotep III" mummy's facial structure conforms more to this image than that assigned to Akhenaten. They also note the uncertainty surrounding the identity of the mummies, taking exception to the "Tutmose IV" mummy as one of the better identified mummies, which they claim has "dockets inscribed both on his mummy and coffin". It underscores the uncertainties surrounding these mummies, making assignments of the mummies directly to the historical ruling figures tenuous, whether from an genealogical standpoint or a craniofacial one. Now of course, Wente sought to buttress his estimation of the "Amenhotep III" mummy really being that of Akhenaten even further, by adding that "it is one of the most severely battered of the royal mummies, having suffered postmortem injuries of a very violent nature, more than what tomb-robbers generally inflicted upon the mummies in search of precious items". This is supposed to be significant, in that the pharaoh is generally understood to have stoked much hostility within the ruling circles, who were opposed to his brand of monotheism, and doing away with the long held neteru system. The question is, what if Wente's estimation was wrong, and that the mummy assigned to Akhenaten happens to be right; what then? Well, the answer would be obvious then; that the most popular sculptures of Akhenaten sporting the long face and pseudo-goatee were highly idealized and exaggerated renditions, if not "likeness", of the then living pharaoh. In his estimation, along with his research partner James Harris, even if the "Amenhotep III" mummy were positively assigned to Akhenaten, this would be the likely case:
Since neither the skeleton from KV 55 nor Tutankhamun are likely biologic sons of the Amenhotep III mummy or of the Amenhotep II mummy, we come to the possible conclusion that Tutankhamun was not the biologic son of a king. Rather, we suggest that Thutmose IV was the paternal grandfather of Tutankhamun, a conclusion consonant with a literal reading of the text on the Oriental Institute astronomical instrument, and that Amenhotep III was his maternal grandfather. In other words, Tutankhamun was the offspring of a marriage between a son of Thutmose IV and a daughter of Amenhotep III.
Historians of the New Kingdom may balk at this solution because of the Amarna block stating that Tutankhuaten was a "king's son of his body." Although in the New Kingdom this expression is generally to be taken literally, the Amarna period does witness many departures from the norm. It has been suggested that the emphasis on solar worship and the position of pharaoh in relation to the solar deity at Amarna received its inspiration from the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom is also the time when the title "king's son of his body" was occasionally used in the extended sense of king's grandson. - Edwarde F. Wente, Who Was Who Among The Royal Mummies, 1995.
As a matter of fact, the whole point of the recent project of extracting certain mummy DNA (the "Amenhotep III" mummy, the "KV 55" and "Tutankhamun" mummy) was to confirm the king-to-son relationship between Tutankhamun and either of the former two, under Hawass' watch. As it turns out, so claim the researchers, the KV 55 was indeed the paternal parent of Tut. If this is to be accepted, then this takes us back to the "Amenhotep III" mummy conforming to the long-faced sculptures of Akhenaten more so than the KV 55, which was just recently (February 2010) said to be that of the father of Tutankhamun and claimed to be that belonging to Akhenaten, which in turn would confirm that the said long-faced renditions were idealized personifications of the pharaoh, while the shorter-faced and goatee-less counterparts were likely intended to serve as portraits of the pharaoh!
The female-like abdomen and protruding belly was a signature artistic convention of the Akhenaten era, and doubtlessly one of the most visible idealized aspects of the rulers being artistically celebrated...
*As additional information comes to light, modifications or additions may be made to this post.
—Personal notes from August 2005.
—Edward F. Wente, Who Was Who Among The Royal Mummies, 1995.
—Hawass et al., Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family, 2010.
—*Visual aids from various sources.