Tech & Innovation December 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Using CT technology, scientists reveal secrets of the only royal Egyptian mummy never to be unwrapped

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor December 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm

December 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Tech & Innovation

Face mask of the never-before unwrapped mummy of Amenhotep I -- S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

The mummified body of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh has been unwrapped by Egyptian scientists without peeling away any layer of embalming linen. The mummy of Amenhotep I, who ruled from 1525 to 1504 BC, was discovered at a site in Deir el-Bahari in 1881.

The mummy, with its enchanting wooden face mask and bandages, was so fragile that archaeologists did not open it to expose its remains, making it the only royal Egyptian mummy found in the 19th and 20th centuries not yet opened for study, CNN reported.

Egyptian scientists have now digitally unwrapped the 3,500-year-old royal mummy, revealing information that was previously not known about the pharaoh and his burial. They used advanced X-ray technology and computerized tomography scanning to know more about Amenhotep I’s mummified body.

“By digitally unwrapping the mummy and ‘peeling off’ its virtual layers – the facemask, the bandages, and the mummy itself – we could study this well-preserved pharaoh in unprecedented detail,” Dr. Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University and the radiologist of the Egyptian Mummy Project, said in a news release.

“For the first time we can know information about the mummy without disturbing the mummy,” Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who is one of the scientists involved in the research, also said.

The findings were published Tuesday in a study co-authored by Hawass and Saleem. The scientists, using scanning technology, did not only get to see the face of the ancient pharaoh but also learned his age and how healthy he was when he passed away. Per 3D images generated by the study, Amenhotep I had an oval face with a small nose, narrow chin, and mildly protruding upper teeth.

He had healthy teeth and was circumcised. The researchers also found that he was approximately 169cm (5ft 6in) tall and died when he was around 35 years old. Amenhotep I was in good health at the time of his death, with his body not showing any wounds, meaning he may have died as a result of an infection or a virus.

The scientists further revealed that Amenhotep I was the first pharaoh to have his forearms folded across his chest during the mummification process. And his brain was not removed unlike most of the kings of the modern kingdom such as Tutankhamun. What’s more, scientists found that he was buried with 30 amulets and a belt with golden beads.

But the royal mummy suffered from multiple post-mortem injuries that were likely inflicted by grave robbers, per the scans. It was initially thought that priests of the 21st Dynasty unwrapped the mummy to reuse certain items such as amulets for later pharaohs but the scans showed otherwise.

“We show that, at least for Amenhotep I, the priests of the 21st dynasty lovingly repaired the injuries inflicted by the tomb robbers, restored his mummy to its former glory, and preserved the magnificent jewelry and amulets in place,” Saleem said.

The original tomb of Amenhotep I, who ruled Egypt for about 21 years, has never been located, even though his mummy was found reburied near Luxor in 1881.

Saleem told NBC News Tuesday that the CT technology used in the study is normally used in clinical settings to scan the bodies of living humans. “Nowadays we do not physically unwrap mummies anymore. We preserve our heritage and study them with non-invasive techniques,” Saleem said.

The radiology professor further explained that they took thousands of very thin CT image cross-sections of the mummy. The images, when combined, formed a complete 3D reconstruction of the pharaoh’s body, she said.

“The technique enabled me to digitally remove the wrapping to visualize the amulets in between the layers, and to visualize the face of the mummy,” Saleem added.

This is not the first time a mummy has been scanned digitally, but it’s the first comprehensive analysis of its kind, Egyptologist Hawass said.

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