Unwrapped: Modern CT scans reveal the secrets of Anniston’s 2,300-year-old mummy
by Lisa Davis
Features Editor
Nov 14, 2010 | 4947 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The mummy’s skeleton is well-preserved. Her pelvis bones have shifted, making it impossible to tell if she had ever given birth. She is about 5 feet tall. Photo courtesy of The Anniston Museum 
of Natural History
The mummy’s skeleton is well-preserved. Her pelvis bones have shifted, making it impossible to tell if she had ever given birth. She is about 5 feet tall. Photo courtesy of The Anniston Museum of Natural History
For years, we’ve known her name, spelled out in hieroglyphs on the painted paper covering her body: “Tasherytpamenekh, justified of voice forever and ever.”

It’s pronounced Ta-SHER-eet-pa-MEN-eck, and it means “daughter of Pamenekh.”

Now we know even more about the Anniston Museum of Natural History’s mummy, thanks to images released this week from a high-tech CT scan at Regional Medical Center.

The scans, according to Dr. Robert Garner of RMC, revealed a remarkably well-preserved skeleton for a 2,300-year-old woman.

View photos of the Anniston Museum's mummy

She had strong bones and good teeth, signs that she ate well, and was probably in her 20s. She might have been wealthy; her joints show none of the stress that would have marked her as a laborer.

She has no lungs, or stomach, or liver. Her organs were taken out during the mummification process. (Her brain was removed by sticking a long hook up her nose.) Even if her organs remained, Garner said they would be unrecognizable now.

There was no jewelry on her body. There might never have been, or it might have been stolen by grave robbers.

The big mystery, though, remains: What killed her?

“There are no fractures, nothing to suggest a traumatic death, or to suggest a hard life,” Garner said.

“At that time, there were plagues going through. She could have been on the wrong side of a political struggle. She could have been poisoned,” he added. None of those means of death would leave evidence we could read today.

Arrival in the U.S.

The Anniston Museum’s two Egyptian mummies first appeared in America in 1926. A dealer in Cairo hoped to sell them at the Sesquicentennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Pa., but U.S. Customs wouldn’t release the mummies.

A man named H. Severn Regar, who had a museum in Norristown, Pa., visited the exhibition and heard about the mummies, and arranged to buy them for his museum. Regar later moved to Anniston, bringing with him the mummies and the rest of his artifacts — notably a collection of mounted birds. He donated his collection to the city for a museum.

X-ray vision

This is not the first time the mummies have been examined medically. In 1978, they were X-rayed before being sent to New York for preservation work. Those X-rays revealed that the smaller of the two mummies was a young woman, with a bit of arthritis in her spine and neck. At the time, they assumed she was in her late 30s.

The larger mummy was in much worse shape, with a crushed pelvis, lower spine and two broken ankles — damage that may have been the cause of death, or the result of grave robbers.

Mummy or daddy?

The story has always been that the mummies were mother and daughter. But in X-rays taken in 1978, the larger mummy’s pelvis turned out to be so badly damaged, it’s impossible to tell if it is male or female.

King Tut’s scan

The body of King Tut received a high-tech CT scan in 2005, which revealed that he was not killed by a blow to the head, or by political assassination, as previously thought. The scans did reveal a broken leg, which quite possibly got infected and led to the boy king’s untimely death.

When they lived

The two mummies lived during the Ptolemaic Era, c. 332-30 B.C. The Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered and ruled Egypt. The Greeks established the city of Alexandria, and its great museum and library. The Ptolemaic era ended with the death of Queen Cleopatra and the Roman conquest of Egypt.

Where they lived

The two mummies are from the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, the capitol of Upper Egypt, located on the Nile River. Thebes is home to the Valley of the Kings, where tombs for the pharaohs were built for nearly 500 years. The modern-day cities of Luxor and Karnak are near there.

How mummies were made

The ancient Egyptians made mummies because they believed they would need their bodies in the afterlife. So they invented a way to preserve them.

During mummification, the internal organs were removed and preserved in separate sculpted jars. Wine was used to wash the body. Spices were used in embalming the body.

The mummy’s clothes

After embalming, a body was wrapped in strips of linen. These linen strips are visible in the CT scans. There’s also a box of mummy wrappings back in the museum’s storage area. They fell off during the 1978 restoration work. Few people in the museum will touch the wrappings with their bare hands, because they’re superstitious about the mummy’s curse.

The mummy speaks

We know the name of the mummy, and where and when she lived, because of the writing on her coverings.

The painted paper covering her body is called cartonnage. The symbols that the Egyptians wrote with are called hieroglyphs.

Several features of Tasherytpamenekh’s cartonnage were explained for the museum by Egyptologist Betsy Trope:

• The painting on the top of her head is of the sun god, in the form of a winged scarab-beetle.

• The face is gilded with gold, which associated the deceased with the gods.

• Painted around her neck is a small necklace with a heart amulet.

• On the stomach (right) is a large scarab beetle, with Ba birds above each wing. The Ba was a form of the soul that could travel outside the tomb.

• Below the scarab is an image of Nut (pronounced NOOT), goddess of the sky and protector of the dead.

• On the upper part of the legs is a painting of the embalming process.

The cat mummy

The museum actually has a third mummy.

It’s a mummified cat, discovered in the 1980s by then-museum curator Pete Conroy, who found the mummified animal while doing some plumbing repairs underneath his house.

Current curator Dan Spaulding is now the keeper of the cat.

He calls her Fluffy, and she comes out to visit sometimes when he is entertaining groups of kids.
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