A young, auburn-haired Egyptian woman has mystified Egyptologists since she was first discovered in 1834. Takabuti died under unknown circumstances more than 2,000 years earlier, yet at the time the well-preserved mummy became a “media sensation,” inspiring a poem and a painting.
Now, researchers are beginning to piece together the woman’s life and journey into the afterlife using state-of-the-art technology.
“There is a rich history of testing Takabuti since she was first unwrapped in Belfast in 1835. But in recent years she has undergone X-rays, CT scans, hair analysis and radio carbon dating. The latest tests include DNA analysis and further interpretations of CT scans which provides us with new and much more detailed information,” said Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of Archaeology at National Museums NI, in a statement.
A team of experts from National Museums NI, University of Manchester, Queen’s University Belfast, and Kingsbridge Private Hospital carried out a series of X-ray scans and DNA analysis over a period of several months in order to determine how the woman died. Scans revealed that several stab wounds in her upper back near her left shoulder “almost certainly caused her rapid death” in her 20s. An object in her body cavity that was previously believed to be her heart was actually material used to pack the knife wound. Her heart, which was previously believed to have been missing, was found intact and perfectly preserved.
“The significance of confirming Takabuti’s heart is present cannot be underestimated as in ancient Egypt this organ was removed in the afterlife and weighed to decide whether or not the person had led a good life. If it was too heavy it was eaten by the demon Ammit and your journey to the afterlife would fail,” said Ramsey.
DNA analysis revealed that the young woman was more genetically similar to Europeans than modern Egyptian populations. Takabuti also had two rare anomalies – an extra tooth (33 instead of just 32) and an extra vertebrate – that occur in less than 0.02 and 2 percent of the population, respectively.
Takabuti lived in the ancient city of Thebes during the 25th dynasty. Her father was a priest of the god Amun and her mother was named Tasenirit, according to BBC History of the World. During her short life, it is believed that she was either a married woman or a mistress. When she died, her body was mummified using natron salt, sweet-smelling spices, resins, oils, and linen bandages to ensure her successful journey to the afterlife, according to the Ulster Museum. She is so well-preserved that her auburn-colored hair is still visible, deliberately curled and styled.
The researchers say that their work transforms an understanding of Takabuti’s life and death.
‘This study adds to our understanding of not only Takabuti, but also wider historical context of the times in which she lived: the surprising and important discovery of her European heritage throws some fascinating light on a significant turning-point in Egypt’s history,” said Rosalie David, an Egyptologist from The University of Manchester, adding that the work “demonstrates how new information can be revealed thousands of years after a person’s death.”
Takabuti is currently housed at the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland.