Scanning Mummies - What Has Modern Technology Revealed About the Family of Tutankhamun?
Many researchers have studied the mummies of the New Kingdom period. A man from KV55, the Younger Lady, Hatshepsut, and others have all been scrutinized. However, most of the early tests didn't bring expected answers. For that reason, a team of researchers created a project which allowed them to find information hidden amongst the bandages and amulets of ancient Egyptian mummies.
The book ‘Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies’ opened the gate to new knowledge about the most famous New Kingdom family –King Tutankhamun’s relatives. It was written by Zahi Hawass and Sahar N. Saleem, who worked with the team of researchers on the impressive project.
An End to Speculations
Zahi Hawass is a world-famous researcher and former leader of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Although many of his theories and speeches are very controversial for Egyptologists, his impact on the scientific community continues to be strong.
The project to scan the mummies of the great pharaohs of Egypt and their families was made possible with the knowledge of Professor Sahar N. Saleem, who is a radiologist at Cairo University. Her specialization is advanced imaging technology.
Dr. Sahar Saleem giving a short presentation about CT imaging. (Dr. Hawass.com)
The team’s goal was to examine the royal mummies, solve many disturbing mysteries, and to identify some of the unknown individuals. They also collected much information about people who died millennia ago. The results of the scans provided some answers regarding the mystery surrounding Tut’s family and the secret of Akhenaten’s disease.
At the same time, the research team didn’t want to disturb the mummies. In general, Hawass strongly opposes any idea about unwrapping the mummies (unless it is completely necessary). He believes that human remains deserve respect, so the scans were also made in a respectful way.
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Zahi Hawass. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Searching for King Tut’s Family
The team of researchers examined all the possible members of Tutankhamun's family. They started with great grandparents and ended with two fetuses discovered in KV62.
The wall decorations in KV62's burial chamber are modest in comparison with other royal tombs found in the Valley of the Kings. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Regarding Tutankhamun’s grandparents, the greatest achievement is the confirmation that the mummy of the so-called Elder Lady is certainly Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother. There was more mystery connected with his parents and wife. Hawass and Saleem’s team confirmed that the man discovered in tomb KV55 is Akhenaten – Tutankhamun’s father.
Profile view of the skull of Akhenaten recovered from KV55. (Public Domain)
Moreover, the team also decided to look at another legend about Akhenaten and his family under the CT scanner. They searched for symptoms of Marfan's Disease in the mummies. As they wrote:
''Thousands of CT images of the KV55 mummy (Akhenaten), as well as the mummies of other family members, were examined to refute or confirm the presence of Marfan's Disease as a familial congenital abnormality. The CT images were studied by Ashraf Selim and Sahar Saleem, who for scientific reasons worked separately, blinded from each other's work. Analysis of the CT images of the full body and precise measurements were attempted for each mummy studied. The shape of the head and face was described and objectively determined by obtaining accurate CT measurements (such as skull indices) whenever possible. (…) Confident diagnosis of Marfan's Disease in a mummy cannot depend solely upon the CT examination of bones. We could not find significant changes in the mummies of Akhenaten or his lineage to suspect the diagnosis of Marfan's Disease. The strange (androgynous) depiction of Akhenaten in art does not seem to be his reality.''
According to the researchers, the apparent deformation of Akhenaten’s body, which brought him more fame than most of the pharaohs, is an artistic vision and an identification with the god Aten, who was both male and female.
Talatat blocks from Akhenaten's Aten temple in Karnak. (Public Domain)
Which Mummy is Nefertiti?
One of the greatest controversies related to Zahi Hawass’ declarations is connected to the mummy known as the ‘Younger Lady.’ When Joan Fletcher announced in 2003 that the mummy of the Younger Lady was Nefertiti, heated debate began amongst Egyptologists. Fletcher believed that the mummy discovered in the burial chamber of tomb KV35 was the beautiful queen, but Hawass disagreed with her. Now, it seems that he has managed to deliver enough evidence to suggest that he was right.
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The scans showed that it is impossible that the Younger Lady could be Nefertiti. The results proved that the woman whose mummy became one of the most famous human remains of recent years is actually Tutankhamun’s mother. The researchers didn't conclude with a strong statement including her name, but they suggest that it might be Kiya or another one of Tiye and Amenhotep III’s daughters.
The Younger Lady. (Public Domain)
They did, however, find their own candidate that may be Nefertiti. Zahi Hawass’ team believes that the KV21B mummy is the most likely to be Nefertiti. They hope that in the future it will be possible to confirm their hypothesis.
For now, they have shown that the mummy found next to KV21B, known as KV21A, must be Ankhesenamun. Although her remains are headless and mostly destroyed, it was possible to use her DNA to confirm that this woman is the mother of two of Tutankhamun’s children. However, this hypothesis still needs more proof.
Tutankhamun receives flowers from Ankhesenpaaten as a sign of love. (Public Domain)
Mysteries of the Mummies
The Egyptian mummies are fascinating for many reasons and with modern technology researchers don't need to disturb their bodies as much as before to examine them. Analysis using new technology allows researchers to solve many old mysteries and learn more about the people who passed away millennia ago.
Top image: CT scan of Tutankhamun (Dr. Ashraf Selim/The Ambassadors), Golden Mask of Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum (Carsten Frenzl/CC BY 2.0), The desecrated sarcophagus believed to belong to pharaoh Akhenaten. (Hans Ollerman/CC BY 2.0), The fragmentary funerary mask of Queen Tiye (Keith Schengili-Roberts/CC BY SA 3.0), Right profile view of the mummy called ‘The Younger Lady’ (Public Domain) and Head of an Egyptian alabaster canopic jar thought to depict a likeness of Kiya, from tomb KV55. (Keith Schengili-Roberts/CC BY SA 2.5)
Zahi Hawass, Sahar N. Saleem, Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imagining of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies, 2016.
Nicholas Reeves, Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings, 2008.
Aidan Dodson, Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004.
Mummies of 18th dynasty, available at: