Famous Swiss Mummy is Given a Face Thanks to Forensic Technology
Shep-en-Isis (also known as Schepenese), an Egyptian mummy housed since 1820 at the São Galo Abbey Library, in St. Gallen, Switzerland, has had a facial makeover. Scientists from the FAPAB Research Center in Sicily were commissioned by the Abbey Library to reconstruct her face digitally. After spending several months on the project, they have successfully given her a face using forensic technology. The results of their efforts have been published in the form of a monograph entitled The Forensic Facial Reconstruction of Shep-en-Isis.
Diagram showing the reconstruction of the soft tissues of the Swiss mummy using anatomical measuring points and empirical mean values determined from forensic studies. (FAPAB Research Center / Cicero Moraes)
The History of the Swiss Mummy Known as Shep-en-Isis
The coffin of Shep-en-Isis was found in the southern part of the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the valley basin of Deir el-Bahari, on the west bank of the Nile River. Mortuary temples were built by pharaohs during their lifetime for their worship after their death. Shep-en-Isis was found in her family tomb located within the temple, along with her father Pa-es-tjenfi, whose mummy is kept in Berlin. Shep-en-Isis meanwhile arrived in St. Gallen in 1820.
Shep-en-Isis was one of the first Egyptian mummies to be acquired by Switzerland and she was displayed to the public soon after her arrival. This well-preserved now-Swiss mummy in its tasteful set of sarcophagi soon became a major attraction, in fact fast achieving the status of Switzerland’s most popular mummy.
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Apart from curious crowds, the Swiss mummy was also of course an object of study for research. Such was her fame that she “appear[ed] not only in specialized literature, but also in a novel,” lead author Michael Habicht, who is an Egyptologist, mummy specialist and coordinator of research projects in Switzerland for the FAPAB, told Aventuras na História.
Research on the embalmed body over the two centuries after Shep-en-Isis left her tomb has revealed that she lived in the 7th century BC during the 26th dynasty period (between 624 and 525 BC), the last period of ancient Egyptian glory. “Based on Shep-en-Isis’ anatomical age and the style of her inner coffin, she must have been born by around 650 BC and died between 620 and 610 BC,” Michael Habicht said in Aventuras na História.
Inscriptions on her coffins revealed that she belonged to a wealthy upper-class family and in fact came from a long line of priests of Amun in Thebes. From her family background, it is likely that she would have had a degree of formal education. However, the long years of research haven’t been able to reveal the identity and profession of her husband, nor whether she had any children.
Left: Forensic facial structure of the Swiss mummy according to the Manchester method in which the facial muscles are modelled, fat pads and skin according to the previously determined soft tissue thickness at defined anatomical points. Right: The first simulation of the face of the Swiss mummy. (FAPAB Research Center / Cicero Moraes)
Swiss Mummy Shep-en-Isis Gets a Face
Along with historical documents and research data, the FAPAB team had a set of computed topography scans, available with the library, and morphological data to rely on for the facial reconstruction. “Reconstructing a face from scaled photographs taken in the Frankfurt plane is possible using modern 3D reconstruction tools or — even better — computed tomography data,” the team is quoted by Aventuras na História to have said.
The Brazilian expert Cícero Moraes, who is a 3D designer and a well-known name in the field due to his facial reconstructions of historical figures such as Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ, was taken on board for the project. He did a forensic reconstruction on the skull following the Manchester method, which is the best of the available forensic methods, according to the team. The facial muscles were modelled, as well as fat pads, and skin was added according to previously determined soft tissue thickness at defined anatomical points.
The best-preserved feature of the mummified body of She-en-Isis was the complete set of teeth which are slightly protruding. These, along with her harmonious and well-proportioned skull, suggested that Schep-en-Isis was probably a beautiful young lady during her lifetime.
How Close to Reality is the Facial Reconstruction of the Swiss Mummy?
Moraes and his team concentrated “exclusively on reconstructed forensic appearance and anatomical evidence,” not adding jewelry, clothing and wigs, which is often the case in other such attempts. This is because it was felt that such accessories are really based on assumptions rather than fact.
Answering questions about how close he feels the results of the reconstruction are to the original, the Egyptologist Michael Habicht told Aventuras na História that “facial reconstruction follows statistical and anatomical data to be performed, so that today we know that structural compatibility, that is, the volume of the face is very compatible with the individual in life, maintaining the general shape of the face, nose and cheeks, lips.”
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However, the team did have to go with some guesswork when it came to skin and eye color. For example, the Swiss mummy was given brown eyes and a slightly olive complexion in keeping with her Egyptian ancestry.
This however, Habicht said, is not foolproof given that the Egyptian civilization has a broad gene pool to draw from. Be that as it may, the facial reconstruction is a big leap forward in putting flesh on the bones of the ancient Egyptian mummies who have long been one of the most fascinating remnants of the past.
By Sahir Pandey