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Lovers Or Brothers - The 4,000 Year Old Mystery


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Lovers Or Brothers - The 4,000 Year Old Mystery

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: January 2, 2006 - 12:01 am ET

(London) A series of paintings showing two men in a warm embrace and other tender poses discovered on the walls of a 4,000 year old Egyptian tomb have triggered a bitter debate over gay life in ancient Egypt.

To many Egyptologists the men were likely mere friends, but to other researchers of the land of the Pharaohs the paintings are an indication that same-sex relationships were accepted in ancient Egypt.

The debate broke into an all out battle of words at a recent international conference at the University of Wales.

If it can be proven that the men were in a relationship the pictures would be the first known depictions of a gay couple in history.

This much is known about the men: Their names were Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, and they were royal manicurists.

The tomb was uncovered in 1964 in the necropolis of Saqqara at Memphis, on the west bank of the Nile. But when it was opened it was found that grave robbers had made off with anything of value.

In the mid 1960s the notion of a same-sex couple was not even considered. But, as the years went on and as gays gained acceptance in the West, some researchers began to take a new look at the pictures.

With the possibility of a 4,000 year old gay love affair, the tomb gained popularity among gay tourists to Egypt. But that the tomb had been plundered has further complicated the question of what was the relationship between the pair.

For scientists the tomb raises more questions than answers. One thing both sides in the debate can agree on is that it is extremely rare to find two men of equal status buried together.

Supporters of the gay couple theory point to the poses in the pictures themselves. In addition to an embrace the men never are shown separately. Often they are depicted holding hands. One picture shows the pair with their noses touching - the most intimate embrace permitted in ancient Egypt.

But they also appear to have been married and had children - something that traditionalists say negates the gay couple theory. Still, the wives and children are relegated to the backgrounds of the pictures. And, in the final pictograph, where the men journey into the afterlife, Khnumhotep’s wife is absent and Niankhkhnum’s was plastered over by workers during the final preparations of his funeral.

"Same-sex desire must be considered as a probable explanation," said Greg Reeder a San Francisco-based Egyptologist, adding that we will likely never know for certain.

For other Egyptologists the men were just friends and colleagues. For yet others the pair were twins.

David O’Connor, professor of ancient Egyptian art at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, believes the men were possibly conjoined twins.

"The artists adapted the visual language relevant to emotional and perhaps sometimes sexual intimacy to express an extremely rare fraternal circumstance, he told the conference.

Scientists believe there are hundreds of undiscovered tombs of aides to the Pharaohs that have yet to be discovered. Perhaps the only way the mystery will be answered is if similar pictures appear in other tombs.

©365Gay.com 2006


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