Ramesses II statue in British Museum

Egyptian mummy digitally unwrapped with 3D imaging tech

Image credit: Dreamstime

Scientists from Egypt have used three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) scanning to ‘digitally unwrap’ the mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I for the first time.

While all the royal mummies found in the 19th and 20th centuries have long since been opened for study, Amenhotep I (pictured in the statue above) is the exception because it is so immaculately wrapped – decorated with flower garlands, and with a face and neck that is covered by a lifelike facemask inset with colourful stones.

But researchers at the Egyptian Mummy Project have now finally peered inside the mummy for the first time in three millennia.

The previous time was in the 11th century BCE, more than four centuries after his original mummification and burial. Hieroglyphics have described how during the later 21st dynasty, priests restored and reburied royal mummies from more ancient dynasties, to repair the damage done by grave robbers.

The pharaoh's mummy, showing his shrunken skull and skeleton within the bandages

The pharaoh's mummy, showing his shrunken skull and skeleton within the bandages

Image credit: S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his death, by High Priests of Amun,” said Dr Sahar Saleem, the study’s first author.

“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,” said Saleem.

“We show that Amenhotep I was approximately 35 years old when he died. He was approximately 169cm tall, circumcised, and had good teeth. Within his wrappings, he wore 30 amulets and a unique golden girdle with gold beads.

“Amenhotep I seems to have physically resembled his father: he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair, and mildly protruding upper teeth.”

The pharaoh's skull, including his teeth in good condition

The pharaoh's skull, including his teeth in good condition

Image credit: S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

Saleem continued: “We couldn’t find any wounds or disfigurement due to disease to justify the cause of death, except numerous mutilations post mortem, presumably by grave robbers after his first burial. His entrails had been removed by the first mummifiers, but not his brain or heart.”

The mummy of Amenhotep I was discovered in 1881 among other reburied royal mummies at the archaeological site Deir el Bahari in southern Egypt.

He ruled from approximately 1525 to 1504 BCE – a period when Egypt was relatively prosperous and safe.

“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 jewellery and amulets in place,” Saleem added.

“We show that CT imaging can be profitably used in anthropological and archaeological studies on mummies, including those from other civilisations, for example Peru.”

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