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Topographical image analysis has now revealed that the mummy is Nespamedu

When the Identity of this Madrid Mummy Was Finally Established, One of the Surprises Was a Swift Gender Reassignment

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Often it takes many years before the full significance of an archaeological discovery can be established. This was the case with an enigmatic mummy that had been on display at Madrid’s National Archaeology Museum. After an extensive study, experts established that it is that of a very important priest and physician from the court of a powerful pharaoh. It is also allowing specialists to better understand the nature of Egyptian society and beliefs of the afterlife.

Building a picture of the mummy

The mummy had been in the possession of the Spanish museum since the 1920s and it was long thought to be that of a woman. Little else was known about the mummified corpse because it is tightly bound in bandages. However, technology enabled a team from Madrid’s National Archaeology Museum to examine the cadaver without damaging the mummy.  Almost 2,800 scans of the body were taken by the team and this allowed them to build up a complete picture of the deceased.

Scientists used a tomography analysis to create a representation of the mummy. This technique used x-rays to develop an image of a cross-section of the mummified corpse. Scientists conducted a fifteen hour study of the corpse, which they called “CT Mummy Operation”, according to the Inquisitr  The study was undertaken in 2016 but its results were only released to the public, recently.

Tomography of the skull. (Image: MAN)

Tomography of the skull. (Image: MAN)

Nespamedu- eye doctor and priest

Surprisingly, the mummy was found not to be that of a female but a man.  According to the Inquisitr it was ‘discovered that it belonged to the personal ophthalmologist of Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II.’ The body was that of a priest who was called Nespamedu, and he was once the personal doctor to at least one if not two members of the Ptolemaic dynasty . It is believed that  Nespamedu treated Ptolemy II and probably Ptolemy III. These monarchs were members of a Hellenistic Dynasty that came to power in Egypt after the civil wars known as the Diadochi Wars that engulfed the realms of Alexander the Great after his death.

There is documentary evidence that the doctor lived between 320 and 200 BC. Like many other prominent doctors he ‘would also have served time working in the Imhotep-Asclepius clinic in Serapeum’ in Memphis according to Inquisitr.   This was a religious center dedicated to the god of healing, where believers prayed for good health and also received medical treatment from priests who were also trained doctors. Religion and medicine were not separate in Egypt at his time.

Unraveling the layers and then adding the layers for reconstruction. (Image: MAN)

Unraveling the layers and then adding the layers for reconstruction. (Image: MAN)

Nespamedu would also have spent a considerable amount of time at the court of the pharaoh in the new Egyptian capital of Alexandria. It would appear that he specialized in the treatment of eyes and was probably the personal ophthalmologist of the pharaoh. As such he was in close contact with the absolute rule of Egypt and its empire.

The analysis revealed that beneath the bandages there were a great number of plaques, charms and jewels, indicating that Nespamedu was a very wealthy figure and a member of the elite. The charms and the plaques were all designed to ensure that he was readied for the journey to the underworld. They were believed to have magical properties that would help the deceased in the afterlife in Ancient Egyptian belief.

Beliefs in the afterlife

The Daily Mirror reports that ‘scans revealed eight plaques on different parts of the mummy, representing various deities.’  They include representations of some of the most important gods in the Egyptian pantheon, including Isis, Anubis and Thoth. The plaque representing Thoth is not surprising as he was the god of eye doctors.  In Egyptian mythology Thoth gave a new eye to the God Horus after his battle with the fearsome god of chaos, storms and violence.

Thoth. God of writing, knowledge and, it would seem, eye doctors. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Thoth. God of writing, knowledge and, it would seem, eye doctors. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

The deities on the plaques were all carefully selected.  These all probably represented deities that were important in the personal beliefs of the physician and deemed by Nespamedu to have been beneficial to his life and his hopes for a happy afterlife. They were also designed to demonstrate the personal capabilities that allowed him to enter into the highest circles and to become wealthy. 

The scans of the mummy offer a unique insight into Egyptian life and beliefs during the Ptolemaic era. They show clearly that despite the establishment of a non-Egyptian dynasty, that traditional beliefs were not shaken and remained popular even among those who served the new Macedonian-Greek elite. The study also shows that those who served the pharaoh could become very wealthy and influential. It also indicates that Egyptians often had a personal relationship with deities, based upon their personal circumstances and experiences.

Top image: Topographical image analysis has now revealed that the mummy is Nespamedu          Source: MAN

By Ed Whelan

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