Two big surprises are among the findings related to a recent CT scan of the mummy who’s been one of our most beloved exhibits since the heady days of Howard Carter and King Tut in the 1920s. First, she isn’t who we thought she was. Second, she’s in another mummy’s coffin.
Last year, the approximately 2,000-year-old mummy took a short leave of absence from the Ohio History Center museum for a CT scan at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center as a result of a unique partnership between the two educational institutions. The medical center’s new Flash CT scanner is the most advanced scanner available in central Ohio and it’s helping archaeologists and Egyptologists learn more about her.
Until recently, based on the coffin in which she came to the Ohio Historical Society in the 1920s, the mummy had been thought to be Neskhonsupakhered, a young woman who lived and died in ancient Egypt during the reign of the Ptolemies between 300 and 200 B.C.E. New research resulting from the CT scan has revealed that the mummy and coffin don’t belong together. Now Ohio Historical Society archaeologists have renamed her Amunet, meaning “the hidden one.”
While researchers now know less about who she is, thanks to Wexner Medical Center and the CT scan they know more than ever about her.
“This collaboration brings out a little bit of ‘Indiana Jones’ in all of us,” says Dr. Joseph S. Yu, M.D., professor of radiology and orthopedic surgery at Wexner Medical Center. “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’ve been able to utilize this wonderful technology to peer into the past.”
Amunet had been X-rayed in 1935 and again in 1984, but the nearly 8,000 new images from the recent CT scan, combined with the 21st-century expertise of Wexner Medical Center’s radiology team, has refined our understanding of all aspects of Amunet’s preserved anatomy and the mummification process. In addition, the new images -- some of which are 3-D -- will allow the historical society to construct a three-dimensional replica of Amunet’s face.
New Images Lead to More Meaningful and Interesting Stories
Most importantly to Ohio Historical Society archaeologists, the new images offer ways to humanize Amunet. “The amazing imagery provided by OSU makes it possible for us to tell much more meaningful and interesting stories about this woman from ancient Egypt,” says Curator of Archaeology Linda Pansing.
Initial stories that emerged from the CT scan present Amunet as a woman with a full and comfortable life. Researchers estimate that she died between the ages of 35 and 45 (a long life considering that most Egyptians died before age 40) and that she was a woman of some means because her joints do not show the damage that’s typical of people who’ve engaged in a lifetime of manual labor.
“As we continue to interpret the CT scan images, more stories of Amunet’s life will undoubtedly emerge,” says Curator of Archaeology Brad Lepper. “Our goal throughout this process is to treat Amunet not as some kind of curiosity, but as a woman from the past with stories to share.”
Mummy’s Original Coffin a Mystery
Based on new research by Cynthia May Sheikholeslami, an Egyptologist who studied at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and is retired from the American University in Cairo, we now know that Amunet was not the original occupant of the coffin in which she now resides. The coffin is the second, or middle, of three nested coffins that belonged to another woman.
Sheikholeslami has determined that the matching outer coffin in which the Ohio Historical Society’s coffin would have nested is in the collections of the British Museum. Unfortunately, none of Amunet’s original coffins have been identified and they may never be found.
“You might not think that a mummy from Egypt had anything to do with Ohio, but ancient Egypt was a source of endless fascination during the 18th and 19th centuries and almost any major American museum with a history going back that far has its own mummy,” Lepper says. The Ohio Historical Society was founded in 1885.
What’s the Ohio Connection?
Amunet and the coffin have been part of the Ohio Historical Society’s collection since 1926 when they were donated by Dr. J. Morton Howell, first U.S. Ambassador to Egypt under the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Researchers know that Howell obtained a coffin for Ohio, his home state, and wanted a mummy to go with it. He arranged with French archaeologists working at the site of Deir el-Medina near Thebes to provide him with a mummy, which is how Amunet came to be in the wrong coffin.
Thus, Amunet comes from the site of Deir el-Medina, a remarkable community of artisans who worked in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings from the 18th through 20th dynasties (1550-1080 B.C.E.). However, details of Amunet’s wrapping and other factors have led researchers to believe that she could date to the Ptolemaic period (332-30 B.C.E.) or may be even more ancient (1292-1069 B.C.E.)
Click here to explore more about Amunet on our website.
Click here to read more about the CT scan in a recent story in the Columbus Dispatch.
The coffin is on exhibit at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, which is open Wednesdays-Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays noon-5 p.m.
The Ohio Historical Society thanks Schoedinger Funeral & Cremation Service of Columbus for transporting Amunet to Wexner Medical Center and back.
CT Scan Images Copyright 2013 The Ohio State University. All Rights Reserved.