The Ohio Historical Society and the Department of Radiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center worked together to study a mummy from ancient Egypt. This mummy and the coffin it resides in have been a part of the Ohio Historical Society’s collections since it was donated in 1926 by Dr. J. Morton Howell, the first U.S. Ambassador to Egypt under the Warren G. Harding administration. It is one of the most popular and, for many visitors, one of the most fondly-remembered exhibits in the museum. The goal of this project is to apply the latest medical technology to learning as much as possible about this mummy.
The CT scan was a totally non-invasive process.
OHS staff transported the mummy to The Ohio State University Hospital with the assistance of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Services.
The OHS mummy was examined by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Radiology Department using a state-of-the-art CT scanner. The mummy was scanned by Gabriel Chiappone and the results were interpreted by Dr. Joseph S. Yu, M.D., Professor of Radiology and Orthopedic Surgery at The Ohio State University, in cooperation with Drs. William Bennett, M.D., Mark King, M.D., Xuan Nguyen, M.D., Alan Rogers, M.D., and Richard White, M.D. the chairman of the Department of Radiology.
The OHS mummy had been X-rayed in 1935 and CT-scanned in 1984, but medical technology has advanced considerably in the past three decades and the OSU Wexner Medical Center team was confident they could use this technology to learn even more about the life and death of Amunet. Whoever she was in life, she is now an ambassador from a distant time and place. She is owed the respect due to any ambassador and we feel an obligation to learn her stories and share them with the world.
Amunet was discovered at the site of Deir el-Medina and radiocarbon dating of Amunet’s wrappings indicates she lived sometime between 830 B.C. and 790 B.C. during the 23rd dynasty.
Amunet appears to have been in relatively good health up to the time of her death. There is no indication of osteoporosis or diminished bone density anywhere in the skeleton, which, combined with features of the skull, indicate she died at an age of between 35 and 45. Few Egyptians of her time lived beyond the age of 40, so she had lived a relatively full life. She was 5 feet 2 inches tall, which was an average height for Egyptian women at that time.
She was an attractive woman with a symmetrical face and nearly perfect teeth. She did have some damage to one of her lower front teeth caused either by a minor fracture or a periodontal infection.
She was evidently a woman of some means, because her joints do not show the damage that is typical of people who have engaged in a lifetime of manual labor. There are some traces of osteoarthritis in the knee, feet, and hands, but this would have been normal for a woman of her age. She suffered from an infection at some point in her life, possibly histoplasmosis, since the scan revealed soft tissue calcifications in the lungs, lymph nodes, and abdomen. There are no signs of violent trauma, so she appears to have died of natural causes.
Evidence of the Mummification Process
The skull exhibited damage to the nasal bones and interior sinuses indicating that an opening had been made for the removal of her brain through the nose. The CT scan detected a dense mass of puddled material in the back of the skull cavity, which may represent some type of resin.
Both of the woman’s arms were crossed over her chest, with the right arm on top of the left arm. The fingers of the left hand were flexed as if the woman had been holding something, such as flowers or a fly whisk.
Usually, as part of the mummification process, the liver, stomach, intestines and lungs were removed from the body and placed in special jars. The CT scans of the OHS mummy revealed an intact liver and portions of both lungs. This suggests the mummification process may have been hurried or performed by inexperienced embalmers.
Before the body was wrapped in its layers of linen, a mass of packing material was placed over the skin of the abdomen in the void left by the missing organs. This gave the mummy a more life-like appearance.
The CT scans revealed long, thin rod-like objects laying along both shins from the ankle to the knee beneath the wrappings. It is possible these are stems of the lotus, a plant with powerful symbolic meaning for ancient Egyptians.
The OSU Wexner Medical Center CT scans give us a more detailed picture of the life, death and the rituals attendant upon the death of this ancient Egyptian woman. Even though the mummy had been X-rayed in 1935 and again in 1984, the current imagery, combined with the 21st century expertise of the OSU Wexner Medical Center’s radiology team, has refined our understanding of all aspects of her preserved anatomy. For example, the 1984 report estimated the woman’s age as between 35-40. Based on the new data, including more accurate imaging of the skull and the detection of arthritis in the right shoulder joint, we now can refine that estimate slightly upwards to between 35 and 45. In addition, we now have a much clearer understanding of the mummification process.
Dr. Joseph Yu said, "In medicine, we have incredible and powerful tools to learn about our cells and our bodies. In this unique venture with the Ohio Historical Society, we have been able to utilize this wonderful technology to create a larger window through which to peer into past, and bring out a little bit of ‘Indiana Jones’ in all of us."
For further information
Curator of Archaeology
Curator of Archaeology