First look at the face of a woman dead for 2000 years
by Rowan Hooper, news editor
IMAGINE how Egyptologists must struggle with temptation. Say you are a young archaeologist and you discover an intact mummy. You must yearn to unwrap it, to see what was buried with the body, to learn about who this person was.
For most Egyptologists of the golden era of discovery in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a temptation to which they succumbed. Not so Alexander Rhind, who in 1857, aged 24, discovered what became known as the Rhind mummy in a tomb dating to 10 BC in the ancient city of Thebes. He shipped it home and it resides, intact, at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, UK.
Now its secrets have been revealed thanks to CT scanning and 3D image generation carried out by Edwin van Beek and colleagues at the Clinical Research Imaging Centre in Edinburgh. The mummy was a woman, ethnically Egyptian, 157 centimetres tall and aged between 25 and 29. In her right hand she holds a papyrus scroll thought to contain details of her life. The bandages, daubed in beeswax and pistachio resin for preservation, are set with gold amulets. On her head is a metal cap in the shape of a flying scarab beetle.
(Image credit: CRIC/University of Edinburgh School of History and Archaeology/Holoxica)
Aren't they tempted to open the mummy and retrieve the scroll? No, says van Beek, it will remain intact. "Mummies deteriorate rapidly when opened. But we are looking at performing micro CT scans to see if we can reconstruct the hieroglyphs on the scroll."
We don't know how she died, but in life the mummy was a high-status individual. "Apart from the gold, she has good teeth, indicating that she had a high-quality diet. She was also entombed in a nice sarcophagus."
The Egyptians removed brains before mummification. So for readers puzzled by the apparent presence of a brain in the image of the skull, van Beek says his team reconstructed the brain volume from details found on the inside of the skull.