Researchers Use Modern Technology to Uncover Secrets of Ancient Egyptian Child Mummies
At the St. Bernward hospital in Hildesheim, Germany, researchers are busy working on two Ancient Egyptian child mummies, investigating them with the help of CT scanning equipment. The project is being conducted as part of preparations for an exhibit at the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum Hildesheim, scheduled for August 12-18. It will feature mummies from different areas around the world, including Egypt, China, Peru, Spain and Hungary, and will include information on the various traditions and processes involved in mummification in these areas. The researchers are hoping to discover more about the various preservation techniques, embalming methods, any diseases the children may have been suffering from when they died and possibly also the age at which they died.
“The interpretation of this data has made it possible to reconstruct the individual life story of the deceased as well the life conditions in the society they were living in” the hospital said to Egypt Independent.
One of the mummies dates back to the Roman occupation of Egypt. The child had an arm missing, but this was reconstructed when the body was embalmed. The researchers also found evidence of facial treatments indicating that someone had been attempting to correct facial damage or imperfections.
Mummy of a Four Year-old Child - Roman Period, representational image. (Captmondo/CC BY-SA 3.0)
The other mummy can be dated to the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and was buried around 2000 BC in a mummy case. This mummy is in poor condition, indicating that the body was already badly decomposed at the time of its burial. The researchers would like to find out why this was so.
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The British Museum used CT scanning in 2014 in order to enable visitors to look inside eight mummy cases from the Nile Valley and allow them to look beneath the mummy’s wrappings. One of the main advantages of the technology is that it can allow researchers to take scanned ‘slices’ through the mummy’s body which can then be used to construct a 3D visual model. When the mummy of Tamut, a female adult who was an Egyptian musician, was examined in this way, it allowed the researchers to examine amulets that had been placed on her body within the casket. One of the amulets depicted the figure of a winged goddess which had been placed across Tamut’s neck so that the wings protected her throat. Other amulets were representations of gods – they had been placed within her body to protect Tamut’s internal organs on her journey to the afterlife.
CT Scan image of Tamut mummy (The British Museum)
The researchers were also able to discover that Tamut had eaten a high fat diet, evidenced by the calcified plaque within her arteries, and that she died of a heart attack or a stroke. This may indicate an aristocratic background or high social status.
Embalmers were skilled artisans, particularly adept at extracting the brains of the deceased through the nostrils. On one occasion, researchers using the CT technology discovered a spatula within a mummy’s brain cavity – with a piece of brain still attached to it.
With advancing technology, researchers are hoping one day to be able to examine hieroglyphs on artifacts deposited inside a mummy’s body.
The earliest Egyptian mummies were preserved naturally because of the climatic conditions prevalent in Egypt at the time. Prior to 3500 BC, the dead were deposited in pit graves which were often shallow. This allowed the hot desert sand to dry out the bodies thereby leading to mummification. This must have had an effect on Ancient Egyptian beliefs since mummification began to be enacted as a deliberate ritual practice for the dead. It is thought this began around 3400 BC during the 2nd Dynasty. As Egypt grew wealthier, mummification became more elaborate, particularly for individuals of high social status. Evisceration began during the 4th Dynasty (2600 BC) and this was followed by preservation of the body in oils and minerals.
The documents describing mummification date back to fairly recent times in Ancient Egyptian history – during the Greco-Roman period, the most well-known of these being The Ritual of Embalming.
Opening of the mouth ritual, Book of the Dead of Hunefer (1300 BC), The British Museum (Wikimedia Commons)