Saturday, September 16, 2006

Modern medicine reveals secrets of a middle-class mummy

Source: Telegraph

By Paul Stokes

Modern medical advances are being used to unlock the secrets of a middle class Egyptian woman who lived and died 3,000 years ago.

The mummified remains of Bakt Hor Nekht, encased in a linen and plaster inner coffin, were bought at a local market and brought to Britain in 1820. Now a full Computerised Tomography (CT) scan at Newcastle General Hospital is yielding a wealth of information.

Bakt Hor Nekht was 5ft tall and had a full set of teeth, including wisdom teeth, and no signs of arthritis or bone disease, which suggests she was between 21 and 35 when she died. A substance found on her teeth may have been painted on as a cosmetic exercise after her face was damaged during embalming.

Gill Scott, an Egyptologist at the Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne, said: "It was very important, when the soul was separated from the body, for it to recognise the face after death."

The non-invasive scans also revealed jewellery created from a variety of materials positioned across the body. One amulet, the symbol of resurrection in the form of the winged scarab, is on the top of her chest and another to the left side of the stomach over the embalming incision areas.

False eyes, possibly made from alabaster or shells, were placed over her eyelids and were thought to provide the dead with vision in the afterlife. Miss Scott, a member of York University's mummy research group, said: "We think she was probably the equivalent of today's middle class because she was buried in a tomb and her cartonnage [layers of fibre or papyrus] is quite elaborate and the outer coffin of sycamore wasn't cheap."

Bakt Hor Nekht was found in a tomb at Gourneh in Thebes (now Luxor) and dates from around the 21st to the 22nd dynasties of ancient Egypt. The mummy will be moved to the Segedunum Roman Fort, the last outpost of Hadrian's Wall, at the end of the month as part of the new Land of the Pharaohs exhibition. It will also form part of the £26 million Great North Museum project which is due to open in 2009.

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