Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Look Inside a Mummy's Wrappings

Isabel Stuenkel, an Assistant Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gave an excellent talk last night at the Egyptological Seminar of New York. The Met had one of the mummies they have in their collection run through a CAT scan machine several years ago. They asked the speaker, who is researching Egyptian amulets, to look at the literally thousands of pictures from the CAT scan to see if she could learn anything about the amulets contained in the mummy's wrappings.

The mummy of Nesmin dates to the Ptolemaic period and is in such a good state of preservation that it has never been unwrapped. Nesmin died at about the age of 40 to 45 and was a priest of the god Min.

The primary difficulty in learning anything about the amulets contained in the mummy's wrappings is that the CAT scan works by photographing a "slice" of the body about three millimeters thick. To get any idea at all about what amulet is being looked at, Ms. Stuenkel had to look at dozens of pictures showing the amulet from its lower end up to its top. Ms. Stuenkel showed several examples of this process to illustrate how difficult this is to do and to help the audience judge the accuracy of her conclusions.

Overall, the mummy seems to have contained 29 amulets. Most of the amulets were part of two necklaces on the Nesmin's chest, with one of the necklaces being a row of "Djed" pillers strung together. Two other amulets, probably representing "standing deities" were tied to Nesmin's wrist, on amulet on each wrist. The exact deity represented by the amulet could not be determined from the photos.

The talk was a fascinating look at how modern technology can be used to gather evidence without damaging a rare and valuable archaeological find.

For those of you who live in the New York City area, the next meeting of the Egyptological Seminar is on November 13. Full details can be obtained at if you would like to attend. Membership in the Seminar includes a copy of the group's excellent 'Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar" (BES).

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