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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Investigating the mummies - Al Ahram Weekly

Investigating the mummies

The Egyptian royal mummies project has resumed in the search to find out more about their lives, deaths and lineage, reports Nevine El-Aref 

photos courtesy of Zahi Hawass CT scans on the Hatshepsut and Ramses III mummies

Forensic technology has been playing a major role in Egyptology in recent years, and after centuries of mystery surrounding several chapters of ancient Egyptian history modern science has cleared up many of the enigmas and provided a better understanding of important episodes in this great civilisation.

Modern scientific methods have succeeded in identifying several royal mummies, detailing their lineages and recognising the diseases from which they suffered in life as well as solving the paradoxes behind some mysterious deaths.

Among these achievements has been solving the enigma of the early death of the boy-king Tutankhamun, including the symptoms that led to his death in early manhood as well as the identity of the mummies of his two unborn children.

Science has identified the mummy of the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten and proved that he was Tutankhamun's father by a secondary wife. The mummy of queen Hatshepsut has also been identified through a tooth found in a box inside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It revealed that she was obese, diabetic and died of cancer.

Investigating the mummies

It has also solved the long-debated mystery over the death of the Pharaoh Ramses III, as recorded on the "harem conspiracy" papyrus now exhibited in the Turin Museum in Italy. CT scans on the mummy have revealed a deep wound in the throat of Ramses III's mummy, which would have caused his immediate death. 

The Pharaoh's death was overshadowed by a plot described in the "Judicial Papyrus" in Turin. Despite the information in the papyrus it could not be determined whether Ramses III escaped or was killed during the plot, however.

According to the papyrus, also known as the "Trial Transcripts Papyrus", a plot to kill Ramses III was woven in 1155 BCE by officials in the palace and army standard bearers, as well as his secondary wife Tiya and her son Pentawere. The plan was to end the life of the king and place Pentawere on the throne in his stead.

Investigating the mummies

The papyrus says that the coup failed and the defendants were rounded up and sent for trial, but it was unclear whether the assassination was successful. It goes on to recount four separate trials and lists the punishments meted out to the criminals. Some were sentenced to death while others were sentenced to commit suicide. Among the latter was Pentawere.

The papyrus also relates that the court received instructions from the pharaoh, but this does not in itself pinpoint the exact time of the king's death and whether it took place during the court trials or later.

"The marriage between modern technology, science and archaeology which started in 2005 by the CT scan and DNA test on Tutankhamun's mummy has resulted in important findings which have helped resolve the enigmas surrounding some of the ancient Egyptian royals that grew out of the relocating of their mummies from their original burial places to caches," Zahi Hawass, a former minister of antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He added that the royal mummies were moved quickly at night by the high priests of Amun who controlled the Theban Necropolis during the Late Intermediate Period to hide and preserve the bodies of 18th, 19th and 20th-Dynasty rulers. 

"The priests might have stripped the mummies and the royal tombs of their most valuable treasures, yet they still wanted to protect the royal remains from the tomb robbers who roamed the sacred hills of Thebes," he said. 

Investigating the mummies

In their hurry, Hawass believes, some mummies were misplaced or unidentified. Initially, the royal mummies were rehoused in nearby tombs, and records show that the mummy of Ramses II was originally moved to the tomb of his father Seti I and then later transferred to the Deir Al-Bahari cache. 

"It is difficult to plot the routes followed by the mummies," Hawass said. In the process of moving the corpses and the confusion that ensued, some were stripped of all identification. 

Hawass said that the second phase of the Egyptian mummies project had now resumed in order to study the rest of the royal mummies, among them those on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo that will be transported to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat.

"We resumed the work with a study to identify two headless mummies found inside Tomb KV21 in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Samples of Tutankhamun's foetuses were also taken for analysis," Hawass said. 

He said that preliminary studies had shown that there was a relationship between one of the headless mummies and the foetuses, indicating that it could belong to Tutankhamun's wife queen Ankhesenamun.

"Until now we are not sure of the results," Hawass said, adding that "we have to wait until more studies have been carried out in order to be 100 per cent sure. I think the studies will reveal that one of these mummies belongs to Ankhesenamun and the second to her mother, queen Nefertiti. The ancient Egyptians usually buried the daughter beside the mother, like the mummy of queen Tiye and her daughter, the mummy of the younger lady," Hawass told the Weekly.

He said he had tried to find the mummy of queen Nefertiti's sister, Mut Nedjment, in order to compare it with the headless mummy, but regretfully he could not find the remains previously located by Egyptologist Jeffrey Martin inside the tomb of her husband Horemhab in Saqqara. 

Hawass said that further studies of Tutankhamun's mummy would reveal the cause of his death. Analysis by a machine to be brought to Egypt in September would allow scientists to reveal the exact cause of the death of Tutankhamun, he said.

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