Face And Brain Of 3,800-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Recreated

The face of a 3,800-year-old mummy, before reconstruction. Loynes et al. 2017

Josh Davis 23 Jun 2017, 15:02

After remaining dead and buried in the deserts of Egypt for thousands of years, researchers have recreated the face of a 3,800-year-old mummy. Thought to have been a high-ranking official in the 18th-dynasty, scans of the mummified head have revealed some unique preservation methods employed at the time.

The remains are thought to have belonged to a man named Nebiri, who was once the Chief of Stables, a high-status position that enabled him to live until he was between 45 and 60 years old. Initially discovered in the Valley of the Queens, all that remains of the mummy is a well-preserved head, a few pieces of bandage, and the canopic jars that contain his organs.

When most people think of Egyptian mummification, they picture bodies having their organs removed, before being embalmed and then wrapped in bandages. But in reality, the Egyptian period lasted for thousands of years and as such the funerary practices varied as the time, culture, and customs changed.

Loynes et al. 2017

To investigate this, the researchers analyzed not only the head but also the few surviving scraps of bandages that once covered Nebiri to see if they could glean any information as to how he was preserved. Published in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology, they found that after his organs were removed – which during this period was not routinely performed – he was treated with a variety of substances used on elite peoples of the time, confirming Nebiri’s status in society.  

The embalming procedure used a complex mixture of animal fat or plant oil, a type of aromatic plant such as balsam, a coniferous tree resin, and a resin from a plant that belongs to the cashew family. Not all of these plant-based products, which have natural anti-bacterial and anti-insecticidal properties, are native to the region in which the remains were found, meaning they would have had to have been imported.

This further backs up the idea that Nebiri was indeed of high social standing and is consistent with the impressive levels of preservation seen on his head. The CT scans have been able to reveal this astonishing level of mummification in even more detail. The scans have also allowed for the impressive reconstruction of the face, revealing what Nebiri may once have looked like in life. 

They also show that while a sharp instrument had indeed been shoved up his nose and linen packed into the front of the skull, the embalmers were not successful in removing all of the brain. 

The work reveals in incredible detail what went into the preservation process and provides an astonishing glimpse of a man who died nearly 4,000 years ago.

The face of a 3,800-year-old mummy. Loynes et al. 2017

 

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