Science

The mummy of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I has been digitally unwrapped

Amenhotep I ruled Egypt from around 1525 to 1504 BC and his pristine mummy has never been unwrapped, but CT scans have now allowed us to peer inside



Humans



28 December 2021

Face mask of the never-before unwrapped mummy of pharaoh Amenhotep I

S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

One of the last remaining unwrapped royal Egyptian mummies has been scanned in detail for the first time.

Amenhotep I, who ruled Egypt from around 1525 to 1504 BC in an era known as the New Kingdom, was found in 1881 by a French Egyptologist. But the king’s mummy was left untouched due to a highly preserved wrapping and ornate face mask. It has remained sealed in its sarcophagus ever since.

Now, Sahar Saleem and Zahi Hawass at the University of Cairo in Egypt have “digitally unwrapped” Amenhotep I’s mummy with computed tomography (CT), using hundreds of high resolution X-ray slices to map out the ancient king’s skeleton and soft tissue.

“Royal mummies of the New Kingdom were the most well-preserved ancient bodies ever found, so these mummies are considered a time capsule,” says Saleem.

“They can tell us about what the ancient kings and queens looked like, their health, ancient diseases, mummification techniques and manufacturing methods of funerary objects.”

Amenhotep I’s mummy has been examined using simple X-ray scans in the past, but the detailed CT scan reveals several new facts: his bone structure indicates that he was 35 years old and 168.5 centimetres tall when he died.

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

Left: the pharaoh’s skull. Right: the pharaoh’s mummy, showing his skull and skeleton within the bandages

S. Saleem and Z. Nuwass

The study also seems to answer a long-standing mystery: previous scans had revealed that Amenhotep I had been embalmed by Egyptian priests for a second time 300 years after he was first entombed, after graverobbers apparently plundered his coffin. Saleem had theorised that the priests used this occasion to pilfer precious jewels placed on the body and in the bandages for themselves before re-embalming him.

But the plentiful jewellery revealed in the scan  reveals that the priests “lovingly” re-embalmed Amenhotep I, according to Saleem. It was because the priests’ handiwork was so impressive and the mummy’s appearance was so pristine more than 3000 years later that 19th century archaeologists were convinced to leave him permanently unwrapped.

Journal reference: Frontiers in Medicine, DOI: 10.3389/fmed.2021.778498

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