Saqqara is the largest ancient necropolis with thousands of unearthed secrets about the history of Egypt. Scientists recently shared the contents of several mummies using computed tomography (CT) scans.
While some of the mummies were buried in sealed coffins, three were placed on wooden boards and wrapped in textiles. The exterior also had three-dimensional plaster decorations with gold designs and whole-body portraits. This style of mummification is also known as stucco-shrouded portrait mummies, as described in the recently published study.
The man and woman mummies were brought to Rome by Italian composer Pietro Della Valle in 1615. The composer was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and when he traveled through Egypt, he wanted to bring the stucco-shrouded portrait mummies back home with him - the first of its kind to be displayed in Europe. The first X-ray scans of the two mummies were during the 1980s when they were placed in Germany's Dresden State Art Collections.
Buried With Artifacts
The CT scans revealed that one of the mummies were buried with their organs, including the brain. Two were identified as female - a teenage girl and an older woman - who both had multiple necklaces. All three stucco-shrouded portrait mummies were dated to the Roman period between 30 B.C. and A.D. 395.
The jewelry and other artifacts meant that the two women belonged to the higher socioeconomic class explained Egyptologist Stephani Zesch. Other items the CT scan revealed included coins which are thought to be payment for Charon, the Greek and Roman god believed to carry souls that received burial rites across the Rivers Styx and Acheron.
The Mummies' Medical Conditions
Aside from typical burial findings such as artifacts, the scans showed medical conditions such as the woman having arthritis. The cause of death has not been determined, shared Zesch, but there is evidence "that they died at rather young ages."
Evidence from the CT scan of the male mummy revealed that he was no older than 30 and was 5'4" tall. He also had two, untouched permanent teeth and had several cavities. Several bones were broken and displaced meaning that someone may have unwrapped the mummy after it was discovered. His brain was unpreserved and was not covered with embalming substances.
Only the teenage girl's brain was preserved, shared the team. Despite its shrinking, the cerebrum and brainstem were identified as well as other internal organs. Zesch explained that since there was evidence of small amounts of embalming substances, the mummies stayed preserved through a dehydration process using natron.
The woman was no older than 40 and was 4'11 with evidence of arthritis in her left knee. The teenage girl was younger than 20 years old and stood at 5'1". Aside from her necklaces, she also wore a hairpin. The CT scan also revealed vertebral hemangioma or a benign spinal tumor which is typically seen in adults over the age of 40.
The three similar burials are one of many variations discovered in Saqqara. Much more is seen in the new Netflix documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.
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