Modern Technology Reveals Clues From Egyptian Mummy

It was a child from a wealthy family who died young, researchers report

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers using modern medical technology to examine an Egyptian mummy have so far determined that it was a child of a wealthy family from the Roman period in Egypt around 100 A.D.

The mummy, owned by the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois, underwent X-rays and CT scans in 1990, and more scans with updated CT technology this year. Researchers also analyzed fragments of cloth, insects and hardened resins collected from the mummy.

The scans showed the mummy's bone structure and also revealed that the embalmers left the brain, heart and lungs in the body. The child's long bones were still growing and there were still some baby teeth, which suggests that death occurred around 7 to 9 years of age, according to Sarah Wisseman, project coordinator of the mummy studies and director of the Program on Ancient Technologies and Archeological Materials at the Illinois State Archeological Survey.

There are a number of indications -- such as a cracked skull with no evidence of bleeding and the presence of carrion beetles in the body -- that suggest the embalmers "did a crummy job or this body was lying around for a while before it was treated," Wisseman said in a university news release.

This could be because the child died during an epidemic, which would have forced the embalmers to rush the job or caused a delay in preparing the body, Wisseman suggested.

"All of the evidence, however, suggests that this is a child from a wealthy family," she noted. "They're using expensive red pigment from Spain. They're using gold gilt decoration. This is a fairly high-class kid."

The cause of death is unknown. Another major question is whether the mummy was a boy or girl. Its hands are positioned in front of its collapsed pelvis, preventing researchers from determining its sex. DNA samples have yielded no answers so far.

The researchers will discuss their findings at the Spurlock Museum on Wednesday.

More information

The Smithsonian has more about mummies.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Illinois, news release, Nov. 2, 2011

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