Tech Reveals A Little Girl Mummy Who Doesn’t Look Like Her Portrait
New technologies have allowed scientists to examine the insides of an Egyptian little girl mummy that is almost 2000 years old. This means that scientists can examine the objects interred with a cadaver in a non-invasive way. Using these technologies, they identified an ancient scarab that provides new insights into mummies in death and life. Remarkably, they found that the mummy portrait on the deceased did not match the little girl mummy within the wrappings. This may be a reflection of ancient funerary practices or beliefs about the afterlife, and this is still a mystery. In the 19 th century AD researchers would often take mummies apart when they examined them. Later X-rays were used to examine mummified remains in a non-invasive way. However, this too has its limitations.
Recently, researchers used computed tomography (CT), and x-ray diffraction, which can characterize crystalline materials. One of the research team leader’s, Stuart R. Stock, a professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago, told CNN that these technologies allow them “to create a three-dimensional roadmap of the contents of the mummy.”
The little girl mummy was uncovered at Hawara, Fayum, in 1910. It was found in a burial site, which yielded a host of important discoveries. The little girl mummy is about 1900 years old. And the remains date to the era when Rome controlled Egypt.
Little Girl Mummy Was Clearly Of The Elite Class
Experts were able to direct very thin x-ray beams at the little girl mummy in the Argonne National Laboratory, a particle accelerator facility in Chicago. This allowed them to pinpoint materials and objects in the wrappings of the mummy. Professor Stock is quoted by CNN as saying that this “gives off what is essentially a fingerprint that is characteristic of the material.”
They identified a small piece of calcium carbonate, which was very pure and had apparently been shaped. “This opaque object is about the right shape for a scarab,” Professor Stock explained to CNN. The scarab, a beetle, was a symbol of rebirth. Replicas of beetles were often placed in a cut in the stomach of the deceased during the mummification process.
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The dead girl was once a member of the local elite, though she was almost certainly not a member of the royal family. Professor Stock told 9 News that the deceased family “could afford to have a scarab and mummification, which required a tremendous amount of resources.”
The mystery or problem found in the mummy investigation was that the painted image or mummy portrait, which is quite realistic, was of an adult woman . Mummy portraits were commonly used in Roman-Egyptian funerary practices and many similar examples of this type of funerary art have been uncovered at Fayum.
The little girl mummy portrait is obviously not a little girl, and this is the mystery that still needs to be solved. (Stuart R. Stock)
The Little Girl Mummy And Her Mummy Portrait
The mummy portrait of the deceased was considered to be an excellent source for “picturing” the little girl, who died almost 1900 years ago. These portraits were placed onto the mummy wrappings directly over the face of the dead person. For example, her hairstyle in the portrait allowed them to date her as having lived between 150 AD and 200 AD. However, upon further investigation, the research team found that the imaging they had done of the mummy’s contents revealed someone very different from the portrait.
The portrait showed a young female adult. However, the image created by the X-ray and CT scans told a different story. Science reported that the deceased body belonged “to a child about 5 years of age.” This was not what they had expected based on the funerary mummy portrait.
A further examination revealed that the little girl was only 3 feet (94 cm) tall and had not met a violent death. The fact that this was a little girl mummy is not surprising. In ancient Egypt, there were high levels of child mortality, because of poor hygiene, malnutrition, and epidemics, even among the elite class.
X-ray diffraction showed the little girl mummy's unerupted adult teeth and a mass of resin inside her skull. (Stuart R. Stock)
Mummy Portraits May Have Been A Belief In The Afterlife
Why the portrait on the little girl mummy was different from the deceased is something of a mystery. According to Science, the experts say that “the paintings may not always have been an accurate depiction of the dead individual inside.” The image may be an idealized picture of how the female child would have looked like if she had lived to be an adult. On the other hand, it may represent a belief about how the dead person would appear in the afterlife. However, no one knows for sure.
More research may help to solve the mystery as to why the image on the little girl mummy in the coffin is of an adult while the mummy was in fact only a five-year-old girl.
Experts believe that the methods that they used can be very helpful in future research. These advanced technologies can help to identify the nature of buried or interred objects without having to unwrap and potentially damage a mummified body.
Top image: The computed tomography image of the little girl mummy Source: Stuart R. Stock
By Ed Whelan