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).
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
- Taking the Wraps off Mummy by staff (New Scientist, June 19, 1975, via Google Books)
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.
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 Examination of Mummies (KingTutOne.com)
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.
- Inside the Mummies (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery—BM & AG For Kids)
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.
- That’s a wrap: mummies undergo non-cutting cutting-edge examinations at The Neuro by Neale McDevitt (McGill Reporter, May 5, 2011)
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.
- X-ray unearths mummy mystery by staff (The Sun, October 6, 2011)
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.
- Mummies share their secrets by Gail Skroback Hennessey (Science News for Kids, October 26, 2011)
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.
- New x-ray tech uncovers clues on mummy’s fractures by Claire B. Salling (The Chicago Maroon, January 9, 2009)
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.
- Common and Unexpected Findings in Mummies from Ancient Egypt and South America as Revealed by CT by Christian Jackowski, Stephen Bollinger, and Michael J. Thali (Radiographics, September 2008)
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.
- 3-D reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian mummy using x-ray computer tomography by C. Baldock, S. W. Hughes, D. K. Whittaker, J. Taylor, R. Davis, A. J. Spencer, K. Tonge, A. Sofat (Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, December 1994)
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.
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.
- Tooth decay killed the mummy by Katie Heller (NBC—Connecticut, March 25, 2010)
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.
- Bad teeth tormented ancient Egyptians by Rosella Lorenzi (Discovery News, December 3, 2009)
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.
- Egypt’s female pharaoh revealed by chipped tooth, experts say by Dan Morrison (National Geographic News, June 27, 2007)
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.
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.
- Endoscopic investigation of the internal organs of a 15th-century child mummy from Yangju, Korea by Seok Bae Kim, Jeong Eun Shin, Sung Sil Park, Gi Dae Bok, Young Pyo Chang, Jaehyup Kim, Yoon Hee Chung, Yang Su Yi, Myung Ho Shin, Byung Soo Chang, Dong Hoon Shin, and Myeung Ju Kim (Journal of Anatomy, November 2006)
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.
- Baptist East helps explore mummy’s secrets by staff (Baptist Hospital East, June 2004)
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.
- Modern imaging and endoscopic biopsy techniques in Egyptian mummies by Derek N. H. Notman, Joseph Tashjian, Arthur C. Aufderheide, Oliver W. Cass, Orrin C. Shane lll, Thomas H. Berquist, Joel E. Gray, Eugene Gedgaudas (American Journal of Roentgenology, January 1986)
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.
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 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.
- Deciphering Disease in Ancient Mummies (PBS-Secrets of the Pharaohs)
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.
- Paleopathological evaluation and radiological study of 46 Egyptian mummified specimens in Italian museums by Valentina Giuffra, Donata Pangoli, Paola Cosmancini, Davide Caramella, Flora Silvano, Gino Fornaciari, Rosalba Ciranni (Egitto e Vicino Oriente, 2009)
Paleopathology and radiology both provide a quantity of data about the health status of past populations, in addition to the body conservation techniques adopted.
The use of radiographic and direct microscopic analysis of tissue to diagnose disease in mummies.
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
- The state of the art of paleoparasitological research in the old world by Françoise Bouchet, Stéphanie Harter, Matthieu Le Bailly (Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, January 2003)
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.
- Mummy DNA Reveals Birth of Ancient Scourge by David Biello (Scientific American, October 6, 2006)
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.
- The diagnosis of schistosomiasis in modern and ancient tissues by means of immunocytochemistry by Patricia Rutherford (Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena, 2000)
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.
- The use of immunological techniques in the analysis of archaeological materials by Margaret E. Newman, Howard Ceri, Brian Kooyman (Antiquity, September 1996)
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.
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.
- Extracting mummy DNA (PBS-Secrets of the Pharaohs)
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.
- DNA shows that KV55 mummy probably not Akhenaten by Kate Phizackerley (News from the Valley of the Kings, March 2, 2010)
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.
- Ancient DNA: curse of the Pharaoh’s DNA by Jo Marchant (Nature, April 27, 2011)
Some researchers claim to have analysed DNA from Egyptian mummies. Others say that’s impossible. Could new sequencing methods bridge the divide?
- Study: malaria, not murder, killed King Tut by Michael D. Lemonick (Time Science, February 16, 2010)
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.”
- 3,500-year-old-mummy to get DNA test by staff (CBS News, February 11, 2009)
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.
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
- Mass spectrometry: deciphering the elements (PBS-Secrets of the Pharaohs)
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.
- The importance of the hair in ancient Egyptian society (Outline Science, August 22, 2011)
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.
- Fatty acid composition and preservation of the Tyrolean Iceman and other mummies by Athanasios Makristathis, Josef Schwarzmeier, Robert M. Mader, Kurt Varmuza, Ingrid Simonitsch, Jose Chavez Chavez, Werner Platzer Hans Unterdorfer, Richard Scheithauer, Anatoly Derevianko, Horst Seidler (Journal of Lipid Research, December 2002)
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).
- American drugs in Egyptian mummies: a review of the evidence by S. A. Wells (Colorado State University, no date)
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
- Mummy forensic facial reconstruction at Reading Public Museum exhibit by Jan Feighner (Examiner-Philadelphia, February 1, 2010)
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.
- Getting by on her looks: Using crystal-clear 3-D images from Meresamun’s historic scans, two forensic artists reconstruct the face of a 2,800-year-old Egyptian priestess by Eti Bonn-Muller (Archaeology, February 9, 2009)
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.
- King Tut’s new face: behind the forensic reconstruction by Brian Handwerk (National Geographic News, May 11, 2005)
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.
- The Denver “Rich Mummy” Reconstruction Project: A novel use of “digital sculpting” techniques and 3D printing by A. M. Christensen, S. M. Humphries, T. L. Vermilye (Medical Modeling, March 9, 2005)
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 a wrapped Egyptian mummy using MDCT by Federico Cesarani, Maria Cristina Martina, Renato Grilletto, Rosa Boano, Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri, Valter Capussotto, Andrea Giuliano, Maurizio Celia, Giovanni Gandini (American Journal of Roentgenology, September 2004)
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 Scientific Study of the Egyptian Mummies by Dr. Antonio Brancaglion (Estudos Em Egiptologia, March 3, 2011)
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”.
- Under Wraps: Rosalie David in Conversation by staff (Archaeology, February 6, 2001)
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: CT Scan, Endoscopy, Facial Reconstruction, Forensic Mummy Studies, Genetic Mapping, Mass Spectrometry, Mummies, Paleo-odontology, Paleoimagery, Paleopathology, Paleoserology, Richard Wilkinson, Rosalie David