CT scans of Egyptian mummified remains reveal precious amulets
Image credit: SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy (collage by Beatriz Valero)
Scientists used CT scans to ‘digitally unwrap’ the approximately 2,300-year-old undisturbed 'golden boy'.
Computerised tomography (CT) scans revealed the boy was equipped with 49 amulets of 21 different types - many made of gold - which had been carefully placed on or inside the body.
The mummified remains are said to be those of a boy, estimated to have been 14 or 15 years old when he died around 2,300 years ago.
By leveraging CT technologies, scientists were able to 'digitally unwrap' the body and make 3D-models of the amulets found inside without physically disturbing the remains.
The teen, nicknamed 'golden boy' has allowed researchers to unveil some of the ritual practices that Ancient Egyptians used in the belief that they would ensure their loved ones could safely reach the afterlife.
In the past, mummified remains were subject to unwrapping and invasive dissection for research or entertainment, write the authors of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.
CT scanning has allowed scientists to identify 49 amulets placed inside the body, of 21 different shapes and sizes and placed in a unique three-column arrangement.
One of the amulets is a golden scarab, placed inside the boy's chest cavity, where his heart would have been. The scans showed the amulet had engraved marks that may represent ritual inscriptions, which the team was able to analyse and replicate using 3D-printing technology.
The beetle “silenced the heart on Judgement Day, so as not to bear witness against the deceased,” according to researcher Sahar Saleem, the study’s first author.
“It was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to substitute for the heart if the body was ever deprived of this organ,” said Saleem.
Many of the burial traditions seen on this mummified body come from instructions laid out in The Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian text which outlines how to ensure safe passage to the afterlife.
“Ancient Egyptians believed in the power of amulets, which depended on its material, color and shape,” said Saleem.
“During mummification, the embalmers said prayers and recited verses from the Book of the Dead while placing amulets inside the mummy or in between the wrappings.”
The scans revealed a golden tongue amulet was placed inside the boy’s mouth to ensure he could speak in the afterlife, while an Isis knot invoked the protective power of the Egyptian goddess Isis. A right-angle amulet was used to bring balance and leveling to the deceased.
The remains were first uncovered in 1916 at a cemetery called Nag el-Hassay used between approximately 332 BC and 30 BC in southern Egypt. The body was later moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where it remains.
Like many others, they remained unexamined and were moved into the museum’s basement.
In addition to the 49 amulets that decorated his body, the teenager was also buried wearing a gilded mask, a pectoral cartonnage on his torso, and a pair of sandals, the scans have revealed.
The remains were stored inside two nested coffins. The outer coffin was plain and inscribed with Greek letters, while the inner wooden sarcophagus bore patterns and a gilded face.
Due to the numerous amulets, researchers believe the 'golden boy' was of high socioeconomic status. He was a little over 4 feet tall, about 14 to 15 years old and not circumcised - which may suggest he was not Egyptian.
His cause of death is unknown.
“It’s very nice to have a study with this level of detail,” Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo who was not involved in the study, told the Guardian. “It is part of building up a larger data set for Egyptologists to better understand the lives of ancient people and their religious and cultural beliefs.”
Based on the study's findings, the management of the Egyptian Museum decided to move the remains to the main exhibition hall of the Egyptian Museum.
“The display’s goal was to humanise this individual from the past to teach modern people about life in ancient times,” the researchers wrote in the study.
The body will be surrounded by CT images and the copy of the heart scarab to provide more insight into the mummification process, and the death rites of ancient Egyptians of the Ptolemaic period.
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