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Decapitated Egyptian Mummy Head Found In Attic Investigated By Scientists

The CT scan will be able to determine sex, age, dental status, pathologies, and methods of preservation.

 DR. BECCY CORKILL

Dr. Beccy Corkill

Senior Custom Content Producer

clockAug 2 2022, 15:55 UTC
CT scan of ancient Egyptian decapitated head surrounded by three people
The mummy head undergoing a CT scan, from L-R: Dana Goodburn-Brown, Tristan Barnden and James Elliott at Maidstone Hospital. Image courtesy of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust

When conducting an attic spring clean, you do not expect to find a decapitated ancient Egyptian mummy head. It seems like the stuff horror movies are made from. But this is what happened in Kent, England, when a house was being cleaned out by the brother of the deceased owner.  

It is thought that the head was brought back from Egypt as a souvenir, as was often the case during the Victorian times, and then passed down through the generations. But there is little information about exactly how this head came into the late owner’s possession, and little was known about the head. Subsequently, the head has been gifted to the Canterbury Museums and Galleries collection. Now the head has been examined by scientists to reveal and reconstruct the hidden history of the individual.

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Initially, Canterbury Christ Church University took X-rays that indicate that this individual was an adult female. There was also tubing of unknown material left in the left nostril and in the spinal canal, although the origin of this was unknown.

The mummy Egyptian decapitated head strapped down and x ray
The ancient Egyptian mummy head and X-ray. Image courtesy of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust


To gain more information, a team led by James Elliot, Senior Radiographer at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust and Lecturer in Diagnostic Radiography at Canterbury Christ Church University, conducted a computed tomography (CT) scanner at Maidstone Hospital. It was noted that even though this was conducted in the Nuclear Medicine Department, the mummified head was scanned outside normal operating hours, so it did not impact the service provision.

“The scan provides a huge amount of information – everything from dental status, pathologies, method of preservation as well as assisting estimations of age and sex,” Elliot said in a statement.

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“We plan on using the scanning data to create a three-dimensional replica of the head and possible facial reconstruction to allow a more intensive study of it without exposing the actual artefact. Similar reconstructions were made with Ta Kush, the mummy at Maidstone Museum.”

These scans revealed that the brain had been removed and the teeth worn down by a rough diet. The tongue actually shows remarkable preservation.

The advancement of technology may help to reveal more about ancient Egyptian traditions, and 3D constructions have been made.   

“Beginning in 3500 BC, mummification was seen as a way to safeguard the spirit in its journey to the afterlife. Ironically, the ancient Egyptians believed that a person’s mind was held in their heart and had little regard for the brain. Regardless of this, the brain was removed to help preservation of the individual,” Elliot stated.

“Although traditional accounts state the brain was removed exclusively through the nose, research using CT scans has shown great variability. Until relatively recently, the historic accounts have been accepted as gospel but the scanning of Egyptian mummies has challenged these ideas."

The head is currently being preserved by a professional archaeological conservator, Dana Goodburn-Brown ACR, who is coordinating the research efforts from Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Kent, and University of Oxford. The plan is to reveal the findings to the public at the Beaney Museum, Canterbury. 

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“This project is part of a larger aim to preserve the head and allow it to be displayed in conservation grade packaging for public viewing.” Said Craig Bowen, Canterbury Museums and Galleries Collections and Learning Manager. “The conservation process also allows volunteers to experience and take part in important discussions surrounding the preservation, recording and study of human remains.”

“In keeping with encouraging Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the Beaney Museum will use the application of modern technology with history to enhance learning, widen appeal and increase school visits and outreach,” Goodburn-Brown said.


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