Introduction to Mummy Forensics: Terms, Concepts, and Resources

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Mummies

Mummy forensics is more than just a show on The History Channel, it is an entire field of Egyptology that helps us understand how the ancient Egyptians lived, worked, played, died, and how they prepared for the afterlife.

In this installment of the Em Hotep mummy series (which will eventually become the Mummy Section) we will take a look at the terms and concepts related to the various methods Egyptologists use to study mummies with links to carefully selected websites and articles to further your own investigation.  Whether you are working on a term paper or just interested in mummies, this primer will get you started.

And just a quick note—some of the subheadings in this primer, such as the part on facial reconstruction, will have their own more detailed sections that will include more media, as well as original interviews, so stay tuned!


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines forensics as:

1:  belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts of judicature or to public discussion and debate

2:  argumentative, rhetorical

3:  relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems

While there are certainly legal issues to be considered when conducting analyses on mummified human remains, that is not really what we mean by mummy forensics.  But this definition is still useful to our discussion.  Let’s break it down.

1:  Mummy forensics will not necessarily prepare you for your day in legal court, but it does prepare you to discuss and debate about mummies in the court of academia and public opinion.  The first is important if you want to earn a degree or publish a study.  The latter is important if you want to get funding for your work!

2:  Mummy forensics is often argumentative, as when the results challenge long-held theories, and can become rather rhetorical when it challenges long-held opinions.  You generally aim for the former and try to limit the latter.  Challenging established theories is how science moves forward, by either confirming or refuting the results of previous work.  However, Egyptology can be notoriously personal at times, so maybe having your rhetoric in order isn’t such a bad idea after all.

3:  Mummy forensics is all about the application of scientific knowledge to answering questions, preferably without legal problems.

So mummy forensics is a little like a cross between CSI and House with an occasional dash of reality TV, and a whole lot of really technical and scientific know-how.  In other words, it’s kind of like the Mummy Forensics TV show, with all of the hours and hours and hours of work that is normally edited out, left in.


In this introduction we will outline the different methods Egyptologists use to study mummies, their strengths and weaknesses, and the general terms and concepts of the field.  Each section will be followed by links to relevant websites and articles to help you explore further.  A great introduction to this subject is Medical Science and Egyptology, by Rosalie David, and this primer might be thought of as an annotated outline of her article.

If you wish to go to the source, and you are strongly encouraged to do so, it comprises the third chapter of Richard H. Wilkinson’s Egyptology Today (Cambridge University Press, 2008).  For a more complete treatment see The Mummy’s Tale (St. Martin’s Press, 1993), by Rosalie David and Edmund Tapp.

Before we begin I should mention that while the outline is written with the general reader in mind, the links to outside sources will range from kid-appropriate to post doctorate.  Additionally, some sections of the outline can get fairly technical.  While most of us know what x-rays are and how they might be useful to mummy studies, some of us (myself included) might glaze over a bit when it comes to, say, immunohistochemisty.  That’s ok, there will be no pop quiz.

But like any investigation, you might find that some of the more daunting terms break down pretty easily.  Paleo-odontology might sound like some wing’d saurian beast ready to swoop down and carry you away to her nest, but in actuality it’s just the study (ology) of really old (paleo) teeth (odont).  And that is worth knowing because the study of teeth is an important part of any mummy study.  Don’t let xenoglossophobia push you around!  Learn and enjoy!





Unwrapping and dissecting a mummy, followed by a visual and physical examination of the body (morbid anatomy).

Margaret Murray (foreground) performing an autopsy on a mummy under the watchful eyes of Flinders Petrie (far left, such unwrappings were a one-way trip for the mummy (courtesy of University of Manchester)

Margaret Murray (foreground) performing an autopsy on a mummy under the watchful eyes of Flinders Petrie (far left), such unwrappings were a one-way trip for the mummy (courtesy of University of Manchester)


Provides more detailed information than less invasive methods

Allows researchers to take physical samples from any part of the mummy

Destructive and irreversible—once a mummy is dissected, you can’t put it back together

Usually only performed on mummies that were already in a poor condition, nevertheless there are ethical and cultural considerations to performing an autopsy on ancient human remains


Last week marked the start of an extensive examination of mummies in the Manchester Museum by a medical team led by Dr. Rosalie David, assistant keeper of the Museum’s archaeological department…the most special treatment is being given to Mummy No. 1770, the unwrapping of which began last week.





The use of X-rays to examine the internal contents of sarcophagi and mummies, radiology provides archaeological, sociological, and biomedical information about mummies.

Tori Randall, curator for the Department of Physical Anthropology at the San Diego Museum of Man, CT scanning a 550-year-old mummy of a child (courtesy of U.S. Navy)


Fluoroscopy—the transmission of images from x-ray to a television screen

Tomography—X-rays of a section or slice of tissue on a plane allowing more detailed information about specific areas of the mummy

Computed tomography (CT) scan—the use of computers to assemble tomographic images into a highly detailed navigable 3D rendering of the internal structures of a mummy or sarcophagus

Minimally invasive and non-destructive, radiography is the primary means of studying mummies

Allows skeletal maturity and development to be evaluated, but

Genetic and nutritional differences can make age and development determinations in ancient skeletons difficult when based on modern comparisons—modern humans are generally bigger

Can show disease and trauma in skeletal and soft tissue

Open to misinterpretation—for example, radiology cannot distinguish between trauma and post-mortem effects of the process of mummification itself, but

Can also help with the interpretation of the mummification process by showing natron packets, pooled resin, positioning of the arms, etc.

Requires medical specialists to conduct and assist with the interpretation of the results, making it an interdisciplinary pursuit by necessity

Limited in-situ applications, although this is changing as the technology and methodology improves

Enhances data gained by other methods such as dental studies and endoscopy

Helps make forensic facial reconstructions possible


Modern times are allowing us to examine mummies in a different way—through x-ray analysis, CAT scanning, and DNA testing. The times of opening a mummy physically have faded in the past and now much of the work is done through advancements in technology. New technological advancements are allowing us to peel back the layers digitally, thus, giving us a view of the preservation process without destroying any evidence.


The Ancient Egyptians mummified the dead because they believed it helped the soul find its body in the afterlife…Let’s discover more by looking at three REAL mummies’ photos and x-rays.


For years mummies were studied by means of an autopsy – very informative, but very destructive. The CT scanner allows us to undertake a virtual dissection – yielding huge amounts of information, but also leaving the mummy intact for future people to see and to analyze in ways we can’t yet imagine.


An X-ray on the 2,500-year-old boy, who was on display at Torquay museum, revealed that the coffin is 1,000 years older than the mummy inside…And it has raised the possibility that the child, named Psamtek by staff, was not the first occupant.


The Field Museum in Chicago is using CT scans to learn more about mummies in its collection. These X-ray reconstructions helped confirm the age and gender of seven Egyptian and three Peruvian mummies along with details on the contents and construction of their coffins…One Egyptian mummy looked great from the outside. But the scans turned up that this particular set of remains had no hips, arms or torso.


For Meresamun, a female Egyptian mummy and one of the Oriental Institute’s main attractions, the afterlife proved to be much harsher than her time growing up as a member of her country’s elite. A high-ranking and wealthy priestess in the temple of Amun, king of the ancient Egyptian gods, Meresamun suffered several fractured bones after her death, according to discoveries made by U of C radiologist Michael Vannier using new x-ray technology.


Computed tomography (CT) has proved to be a valuable investigative tool for mummy research and is the method of choice for examining mummies. It allows for noninvasive insight, especially with virtual endoscopy, which reveals detailed information about the mummy’s sex, age, constitution, injuries, health, and mummification techniques used. CT also supplies three-dimensional information about the scanned object.


Computer tomography has been used to image and reconstruct in 3-D an Egyptian mummy from the collection of the British Museum. This study of Tjentmutengebtiu, a priestess from the 22nd dynasty (945-715 BC) revealed invaluable information of a scientific, Egyptological and paleopathological nature without mutilation and destruction of the painted cartonage case or linen wrappings.





Forensic dentistry which allows researchers to collect both social and physiological data from mummified or skeletal remains.

Mummy teeth can tell us about the age, diet, habits, lifestyle, and social class of people who lived thousands of years ago (courtesy of the Rosicrucian Museum)

Mummy teeth can tell us about the age, diet, habits, lifestyle, and social class of people who lived thousands of years ago (courtesy of the Rosicrucian Museum)


Includes the study of ancient bread samples, textual evidence regarding diet, and how ancient dentistry was practiced

Can be conducted on skulls, however, the presence of soft tissue obviously will provide more information

Generally more accessible—Skulls and mummified heads are fairly portable (with proper permits, of course)

Direct examination of the teeth and gums can help interpret data garnered by other methods, particularly radiography

Can help determine the cause of death—evidence of multiple dental abscesses, for example, in an otherwise healthy person indicates septicemia (blood poisoning) as a probable cause of death

Can indicate diet changes in broad populations.  For example, tooth decay was rare during pharaonic times, but became more widespread during the Graeco-Roman Period, which could suggest dietary changes, cultural infusion, new trade routes, etc.

Helps with age determination

Provides evidence of early dentistry, such as resin fillings and lanced infected cysts


  • Introduction to Dental Anthropology by C. L. Johnson (University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Dentistry)

Dental Anthropology is the study of teeth in a perspective beyond clinical science. That perspective includes the study of dental growth, theories on dental origin, primate dentition, and population variation.


Scientists on Thursday revealed another detail about the 4,000 year old mummy, Pa-lb, which is pronounced paw eeeb. On Wednesday, doctors from the University of Connecticut Dental School examined the mummy’s ancient teeth and found that extreme periodontal disease is what probably killed her.


After examining research of more than 3,000 mummies, anatomists and paleopathologists at the University of Zurich concluded that 18 percent of all mummies in case reports showed a nightmare array of dental diseases.


A broken tooth has become the key to identifying the mummy of Hatshepsut, the woman who ruled ancient Egypt as both queen and king nearly 3,500 years ago.





A virtually (but not quite) non-destructive method of viewing and obtaining tissue, bone, and other samples from inside a mummy, endoscopy allows the examination by use of an endoscope, a medical device consisting of a long, thin tube which has a probe, lens, and light source on one end and an eye piece, monitor, and mummy researcher on the other.

Dr. Michael Mosely and Egyptologist Rosalie David perform and endoscopy on a mummy (courtesy of BBC Two)

Dr. Michael Mosely and Rosalie David perform an endoscopy on a mummy (courtesy of BBC Two)


Modern endoscopes are attached to a screen or camera

Older endoscopes use a microscope-style eyepiece and are more portable, but technological advances (smaller cameras) are making older endoscopes obsolete

Medical endoscopes are flexible and more capable of moving throughout the mummy, but less flexible industrial endoscopes are also used because they are more capable of penetrating rigid mummified tissue

Endoscopes can be inserted through existing openings (natural orifices and holes from the mummification process and other post-mortem trauma) which helps minimize further damaging the mummy

Retrieval forceps at the end of the probe allow tissue samples to be taken from within the mummy which would otherwise require an autopsy

Can reveal details regarding the mummification process, such as whether the entrails were returned to the body in natron packs rather than stored in canopic jars, how resin was used throughout the body, whether the brain was extracted, and other details that, when compared to what we know about mummification procedures during different periods, can help determine the age of the mummy as well as provide details about social class

Does not provide as much access as a full autopsy

Can also be useful for peering into sarcophagi and other structures with small openings


  • Mummies undergo CT scan and endoscopy at Lankenau Medical Center (Mummies of the World—The Exhibition)

As part of the ground breaking Mummies of the World exhibition’s arrival in Philadelphia, doctors and researchers utilized state-of-the-art medical technology to perform a non-invasive computerized tomography (CT) scan and laparoscopic endoscopy on a South American  infant  mummy and Hungarian adult female mummy, respectively, at Lankenau Medical Center on Thursday, June 9, 2011.


Because invasive techniques cannot easily be applied when investigating such mummies, the need for non-invasive techniques incurring minimal damage has increased among researchers. Therefore, we wished to confirm whether endoscopy, which has been used in non-invasive and minimally invasive studies of mummies around the world, is an effective tool for study of Korean mummies as well.


Gastroenterologist Martin Mark, M.D., assisted by Celine Vollmer, Endoscopy nurse manager, performed an endoscopy on the mummy’s skull and upper torso…The scope revealed a heart and brain inside the mummy — a pleasant surprise to everyone — since traditionally many of the organs were usually removed during mummification.


One individual was selected for additional endoscopic and microscopic correlation with CT findings in the thoracic cavity. The collapsed heart was identified by CT. A percutaneous biopsy of the heart was then performed with a flexible fiberoptic endoscope, passed through a small hole drilled into the chest wall.





The study of disease in ancient populations.

CT scan analysis of the 3,500-year-old mummy of Ahmose-Meryet-Amon, a Theban princess who died in her 40’s, suffered from hardening of the arteries (Courtesy of National Geographic)

CT scan analysis of the 3,500-year-old mummy of Ahmose-Meryet-Amon, a Theban princess who died in her 40’s, revealed she suffered from hardening of the arteries (Courtesy of National Geographic)


Analysis of bone and mummified tissue can provide a wealth of information about diet, lifestyle, and disease

Morbid anatomy—visual (eyes only) examination of the body

Histopathology—the study of changes in the tissue cause by disease

Histopathology can also reveal details about the mummification process, such as how the tissues were affected by preservatives like natron

Histology—the use of light microscopy to show the microscopic structure of tissue and any changes caused by disease

Electron microscopy—the use of a beam of electrons to illuminate tissue in order to render a highly detailed image and extremely fine structural details, can also reveal such things as the presence of heavy metals in bone and other tissue

Immunohistochemistry—the use of specialized staining agents to increase the likelihood of identifying cell constituents in tissue

Paleohistology—the use of histological techniques to study ancient tissue, the tissue must first be rehydrated and fixed then frozen and cut into slices which can be stained for microscopic analysis

Limited by the usefulness of the tissue sample being analyzed—there is no way of knowing if the sample contains useful data until it is under the scope, and analyzing useless samples is as expensive and time consuming as analyzing useful ones


  • The Paleopathology Association

The Paleopathology Association is composed of researchers, scientists, and students from many fields, including physical anthropology, medicine, archaeology, and Egyptology from around the world.


  • Mummies and Disease in Ancient Egypt by C. L. Johnson (University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Dentistry)

Health, disease, and culture are studied in medical anthropology both from a comparative and historical perspective. Mummies and the diseases they reveal offer insight into the past; they are time travelers from another age. Diagnosis via paleopathology is difficult; however, considerable success has been achieved in uncovering afflictions from the past. Infectious, congenital, neoplastic (cancer), and traumatic conditions are all present in abundance.


By taking x-rays, we can see fractures, the degeneration of bone from osteoarthritis — which was very common among the Egyptians — and make assumptions about lifestyle and diet. Muscles leave an imprint on bone telling how big they were and how much they were used, which can provide information as well.


Paleopathology and radiology both provide a quantity of data about the health status of past populations, in addition to the body conservation techniques adopted.




Immunological Techniques

The use of radiographic and direct microscopic analysis of tissue to diagnose disease in mummies.

Using immunological techniques, researchers were able to isolate specific chemicals responsible for the transmission of nerve disease in the spine of a 3,000-year-old mummy (Courtesy of C. H. V. Hoyle)

Using immunological techniques, researchers were able to isolate specific chemicals responsible for the transmission of nerve disease in the spine of a 3,000-year-old mummy (Courtesy of C. H. V. Hoyle)


Limited by access to radiographic equipment which is usually only available in a hospital and requires assistance from doctors and technicians in the medical field

To be useful the tissue must contain evidence such as parasites or other histological information

Does not require large individual samples and thus can be applied to a larger number of samples

Unlike living tissue, detection of antibodies (important in identifying disease) in ancient tissue is extremely difficult, and so researchers are usually limited to looking for signs of antigens associated with worms, eggs, and other parasitical remains

Immunocytochemistry—a method of looking for antigens in a tissue sample by targeting specific protein antigens to see if the sample expresses the antigen in question.  For example, looking for remaining antigens associated with a particular parasite that could lead to identifying an otherwise undetectable disease


Paleoparasitology in the Old World has mainly concerned the study of latrine sediments and coprolites collected from mummified bodies or archaeological strata, mostly preserved by natural conditions. Human parasites recovered include cestodes, trematodes, and nematodes. The well preserved conditions of helminth eggs allowed paleoepidemiological approaches taking into account the number of eggs found by archaeological stratum. Tentatively, sanitation conditions were assessed for each archaeological period.


Centuries of silence cannot keep ancient Egyptian mummies from sharing their secrets with scientists. From archaeologists determining cultural practices to chemists studying embalming, mummies have revealed libraries of information. Now such mummies are also yielding evidence about the diseases of the past by giving up the facts encoded in their preserved DNA, and new research may have pinned down the ancient homeland of a modern scourge.


Although Schistosoma worms infect millions of people today they were evident in ancient Egyptian times, with one of the classic symptoms “haematuria” being described in various medical papyri.  A current epidemiology study means diagnostic tools that can be applied to ancient dehydrated tissues are now needed.  To overcome this immunocytochemistry has been used, producing positive staining to S. Mansoni and haematobium antigens in both modern and ancient tissues, suggesting that Schistosoma antigens may still be present after thousands of years.


This paper responds to Eisele (1994) and Eisele et al. (1995), which question the preservation of protein residues on archaeological lithic tools and the detection and characterization of such proteins, if they do indeed survive.




DNA Analysis and Paleoserology

The study of genetics and blood groups in ancient remains.

A major genetic study concluded in 2010 proposed to trace the familial lines of Tutankhamun, but raised as many questions as it answered

A major genetic study concluded in 2010 and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association proposed to identify disease and trace the familial lines of Tutankhamun and other Eighteenth Dynasty dignitaries, but raised as many questions as it answered


Allows tracing of kinship patterns and population movements

Paleoserology is not considered as reliable as it once was, with genetic studies being the preferred method of tracing kinship and migration today

Only small amounts of bone or tissue are required for genetic analysis

Ancient DNA is hard to sample as it survives in very small quantities and is often rendered useless due to damage, decay, and contamination

To reiterate, contamination of the sample is VERY difficult to prevent, as the sample is by definition extremely old and may have been handled in modern times before strict protocols were set in place.  Might be compared to trying to analyze a crime scene in a subway station.

The mummification process itself tends to render DNA samples useless

Mummies from newly excavated sites and museums where strict handling protocols have been in place are best candidates for DNA analysis

Can help determine the sex of a mummy, familial relations, and ultimately can help produce a database that showing origins, migration patterns, and composition of ancient societies

Can provide information about infectious and parasitic diseases in ancient populations


  • Population Genetics by C. L. Johnson (University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Dentistry)

Populations are a group of interbreeding individuals and all of the alleles found in that population are referred to as the gene pool. While all members of Homo sapiens are capable of interbreeding, mate choice is in our lives is really quite limited. Factors that determine with whom we mate are geographical, ecological, and social.  Within a population, geneticists are concerned with gene frequencies for specific traits.


Egypt’s mummies are among the best preserved of all ancient remains, but even in them the recovery of DNA — the genetic fingerprint of every individual — is insidiously difficult. Molecular biologist Scott Woodward of Brigham Young University may know this better than anyone; he and his lab recovered the DNA from hundreds of Egyptian mummies, from commoners to pharaohs.


  • Ancestry and pathology in King Tutankhamun’s family by Zahi Hawass, Yehia Z. Gad, Somaia Ismail, Rabab Khairat, Dina Fathalla, Naglaa Hasan, Amal Ahmed, Hisham Elleithy, Markus Ball, Fawzi Gaballah, Sally Wasef, Mohamed Fateen, Hany Amer, Paul Gostner, Ashraf Selim, Albert Zink, Carsten M. Pusch (Journal of American Medical Association, 2010)

The New Kingdom in ancient Egypt, comprising the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties, spanned the mid-16th to the early 11th centuries BC. The late 18th dynasty, which included the reigns of pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, was an extraordinary time. The identification of a number of royal mummies from this era, the exact relationships between some members of the royal family, and possible illnesses and causes of death have been matters of debate.


The paper Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family by Hawass al…states that the mummy in KV55 is “probably” Akhenaten…The media has accepted the attribution as affirmed fact, although the attribution has attracted considerable comment and debate with a number of writers questioning the forensic data.  I believe, however, that the correct focus of dissent to the attribution should be the STR analysis which shows that the KV55 mummy is highly unlikely to be Akhenaten and that an alternative family tree is a better fit to the genetic findings of the Hawass study.


Some researchers claim to have analysed DNA from Egyptian mummies.  Others say that’s impossible. Could new sequencing methods bridge the divide?


Among the results: King Tut was probably not murdered, despite some popular theories to the contrary. And he probably didn’t suffer from a long list of diseases that experts have speculated about, including, as the report lists them (deep breath), “Marfan syndrome, Wilson-Turner X-linked mental retardation syndrome, Fröhlich syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, androgen insensitivity syndrome, aromatase excess syndrome in conjunction with sagittal craniosynostosis syndrome or Antley-Bixler syndrome or a variant form.”


Egypt plans to conduct a DNA test on a 3,500-year-old mummy to determine if it is King Thutmose I, one of the most important pharaohs, the country’s chief archaeologist said Thursday.  Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities chief, said the DNA test and an X-ray will be carried out on a mummy found at the site of ancient Thebes on the west bank of the Nile, what is today Luxor’s Valley of the Kings, the Middle East News Agency reported.




Instrumental Methods of Analysis

The use of techniques such as mass spectrometry and gas chromatography to study artifacts such linen wrappings, cosmetic and therapeutic substances and plants buried with the mummy, as well as the mummy itself, such as hair and fatty tissue analysis.

Meet Henut Taui… when gas-chromatography—mass spectrometry revealed the presence of cocaine and nicotine in her system, two drugs that should not have been on that side of the Atlantic during her lifetime, much controversy ensued (courtesy of BBC/Channel Four)

Bad girl or just misunderstood? When gas-chromatography—mass spectrometry revealed the presence of cocaine and nicotine in Henut Taui's system, two drugs that should not have been on that side of the Atlantic during her lifetime, much controversy ensued (courtesy of BBC/Channel Four)


Mass spectrometry is a powerful analytical technique that is used to identify unknown compounds, to quantify known compounds, and to elucidate the structure and chemical properties of molecules (source: American Society for Mass Spectrometry).

Methods such as gas-liquid spectrometry allows researchers to isolate the individual ingredients of the resin and other funerary/embalming substances

Identification and examination of psychoactive and narcotic substances with instrumental methods within specific contexts allows the study of drug use in ancient populations for medical, religious, and social purposes

Instrumental surveys with techniques such as radioimmunoassay and gas-chromatography—mass spectrometry can identify substances that are not native to the local area, which helps identify relations (such as trade) with other distant cultures

As with DNA analysis, contamination of samples is a persistent problem


For the most part, the techniques scientists use to identify narcotics and other drugs from the hair and tissue of a mummy and chemical compounds from a plant like the Egyptian blue lotus…are the same. Researchers Vic Garner and David Counsell of the University of Manchester relied on a sophisticated version of a common chemical analysis technique: mass spectrometry.


Ancient Egyptians styled their hair using a fat-based ‘gel’…Microscopy using light and electrons revealed that nine of the mummies had hair coated in a mysterious fat-like substance. The gas chromatography–mass spectrometry was used to separate out the different molecules in the samples, and found that the coating contained biological long-chain fatty acids including palmitic acid and stearic acid.


In anthropology, objective parameters to adequately describe storage conditions and the preservation of mummies have yet to be identified. Considering that fatty acids degrade to stable products, we analysed their profile in human mummies and in control samples by gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GC/MS).


The recent findings of cocaine, nicotine, and hashish in Egyptian mummies by Balabanova et. al. have been  criticized on grounds that: contamination of the mummies may have occurred, improper techniques may have been used, chemical decomposition may have produced the compounds in question, recent mummies of drug users were mistakenly evaluated, that no similar cases are known of such compounds in long-dead bodies, and especially that pre-Columbian transoceanic voyages are highly speculative.


  • Analysis of an Egyptian mummy resin by mass spectrometry by Mark L. Proefke and Kenneth L. Rinehart (Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, July 1992)

Archaeologists  have  long  found  themselves faced  with  the  difficult  problem  of  identifying unknown  materials  in  organic  remains.  Of all the  organic  remains  studied,  resins  are  among  the most  common.  Resins  have  been  used  throughout antiquity  as  coatings,  as  in  jars  and  vessels,  and  as adhesives,  as  in  Egyptian  mummy  wrappings.




Forensic Facial Reconstruction

A process originally developed to assist in criminal investigations to help identify skeletal remains, these procedures have been adapted to put a recognizable face on ancient mummies

Early facial reconstructions involved putting clay or wax on a cast of the skull, but were limited to skulls where mummified tissue and wrappings were not an impediment

More recently, CT scans have been used to create detailed polystyrene replicas of skulls without the tissue and wrappings

Even more recently, computerized 3D modeling is revolutionizing how forensic facial reconstructions are done

One problem is that there will always be a certain degree of subjectivity in these recreations, which has caused some to question how reliable these reconstructions are, but on the other hand, criminal “cold cases” have been closed based on reconstructions of the more recently deceased, using the same methods and instruments


The reconstruction process began with a CT scan, which provided digital information used to develop a skull model. Then he employed rapid prototyping, technology that automatically constructs physical models from Computer-Aided Design (CAD) data, which is printed similar to a sculpture of itself. Elias reproduced her skull through 3D printing and sent a copy of the data set to the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg that created an actual model of Nefrina’s skull.


CT images have helped two individuals–each working separately with 3-D STL (stereolithography) images of Meresamun’s skull produced from the scans, but using different techniques–reconstruct Meresamun’s face. Michael Brassell is a Baltimore-based forensic artist for…the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System…Josh Harker, a forensic artist who lives in Chicago and was originally trained as a sculptor, worked digitally, leveraging the latest software and imaging technology.


The world’s most famous pharaoh has a brand-new look, thanks to forensic techniques that wouldn’t be out of place on a CSI TV crime drama. Scientists have created the first ever bust of the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun based on 3-D CT scans of his 3,300-year-old mummy.


Several years ago the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (UCHSC) cooperated in a unique effort to study an intact 3,000 year old Egyptian mummy using medical imaging techniques. High resolution computed tomography (CT) scans were acquired through the entire length of the mummy enabling a detailed and non-invasive view inside the wrappings. The CT images effectively create a three-dimensional digital database of the anatomy and structure of the specimen which provided a basis for computer renderings that are currently on display at the DMNS.


Facial reconstruction of mummies and corpses in general is important in anthropological, medical, and forensic studies. The purpose of our study was to evaluate the role of MDCT examination for 3D facial reconstruction and report the results of multidisciplinary work performed by radiologists, anthropologists, and forensic police in reconstructing the possible physiognomy of an ancient Egyptian mummy.




For more general discussion of mummy forensics, the following sites and articles come highly recommended.


The study of mummified human bodies gives us an insight to the Ancient Egypt way of life, to their lifestyle, health and funerary practices. This reduces the bias caused by the tentative interpretation of their artistic or written testimonies. The Egyptian word for mummy was sah, that means “eternal image” or “noble image”.


For nearly three decades, Rosalie David has directed the mummy research project at the Manchester Museum at Britain’s Manchester University, home of one of Europe’s finest Egyptian antiquities collections and one of the oldest research institutions in Egyptology. ARCHAEOLOGY spoke to David about her work with the Manchester Mummy Research Project and her latest book Conversations With Mummies, published this past October by William Morrow.


  • How to Study a Mummy:  A step-by-step guide by James M. Deem (Mummy Tombs)

In order to study a mummy, scientists perform a number of procedures, similar in some ways to those used by a medical examiner who conducts an autopsy.


Copyright by Keith Payne, 2011.  All rights reserved.




Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, December 26th, 2011 at 5:12 pm and is filed under Mummies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 comments so far


Dear Keith,
I stumbled upon your site and have spent the last four hours reading your articles
Love the conciseness of the work and the attached links to more details
This is a super website for understanding Egypt but more impressively the new fields of Egyptology mixing with modern day science

December 27th, 2011 at 12:35 am

Hi Emily,

Thank you so much for reading and enjoying the site, and also for taking the time to comment, it makes my day! 🙂

The next section on mummies will be a closer look at facial reconstructions, followed quickly by an interview with Joshua Harker, the forensic artist who did the reconstruction of the priest Nesmin for the University of Belgrade and the chantress Meresamun for the Oriental Institute at Chicago. Josh is a brilliant artist and a really smart cookie, so I am really looking forward to the conversation.

So please keep checking back in, and always feel free to jump in and get a discussion going.


December 27th, 2011 at 9:42 am

Bonjour, je suis tombée par hasard sur votre site et surtout sur le sujet d’analyse des momies. Je pense que je suis également passionner comme vous d’Egypte ancienne mais je suis plus particulièrement passionner par les momies. J’aimerai pouvoir en faire mon métier, mélanger passion et métier. Je vous laisse un petit commentaire pour vous dire que votre site est super et surtout très enrichie, le sujet sur l’analyse des momies est très rare et vos liens pour plus d’info sont super intéressant et d’autre part j’aime beaucoup partager ma passion avec d’autre passionner.
Je vous souhaite une bonne soirée
Cordialement, Romy (Epoque-Pharaonique)

January 14th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Bonjour Romy,

Je vous remercie beaucoup pour vos aimables paroles et des encouragements! Momies sont toujours une source de fascination et mon espoir est de faire ce sujet compréhensible pour les gens qui sont curieux sur le sujet, mais qui ne sont pas forcément des spécialistes. Je suis un profane dans ce domaine, et la plupart de ce que je sais que j’ai appris par la recherche de ces articles. Ils disent que si vous voulez en apprendre davantage sur un sujet, puis l’enseigner! C’est mon espoir que grâce à ce site je suis d’enseignement et de divertir les gens bein.

Avoir une très bonne journée et merci encore

– K

January 15th, 2012 at 2:00 am

Dear Keith, Is it possible for you to estimate the minimum time period that it would take for the body of a cat or ferret to become naturally mummified. I understand that this depends on many environmental parameters. The average environmental temperature would have been between 6.5°C and 12.0°C. I have estimate that the minimum time period would have been around 40 days, is this reasonable? Kind regards, David

August 19th, 2016 at 9:21 am

One Trackback/Ping

  1. Girls Blog    Jul 13 2017 / 2pm:

    This Mummy Has Returned

    […] appings. The CT images effectively create a three-dimensional digital database o […]

Leave a reply

Name (*)
Mail (will not be published) (*)