Five Foot Six and Circumcised: CT Scan Uncovers Mummy of Pharaoh

Without opening the mummy, researchers were able to have a look inside the perfectly-preserved shroud of Amenhotep I, who ruled Egypt about 3,500 years ago

Gid'on Lev
Gid'on Lev
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The mummy of Amenhotep I, showing his skull and skeleton within the bandages.
The mummy of Amenhotep I, showing his skull and skeleton within the bandages.Credit: S. Saleem and Z. Nuwass
Gid'on Lev
Gid'on Lev

Of all the mummies that were found in the 19th and 20th centuries, only one was never opened for research purposes – the mummy of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I. The researchers simply did not dare to touch a mummy that had been so perfectly preserved, with its array of decorations and its delicate and colorful face mask.

Now for the first time, the researchers have gotten their first look inside – without even opening it. The shroud was digitally opened using a 3-D CT scan. On Monday, the Egyptian researchers reported their findings in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

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The first time that this mummy was opened was in the 11th century B.C.E., 400 years after the pharaoh’s death by priests who restored and reburied mummies from ancient dynasties that tomb robbers had damaged.

The skull of Amenhotep I. Researchers found that he looked like his father - both of whom had a narrow nose and chin, curly hair and protruding upper teeth.Credit: S. Saleem and Z. Nuwass

“At the end of the 20th Dynasty, a large portion of the tombs of the kings were robbed, and the priests reburied them to protect them,” explained Dr. Deborah Sweeney, an Egyptologist in the department of Archaeology and Ancient Near East Cultures at Tel Aviv University. “At the time of the reburial, they left the mummy of Amenhotep I with its original jewelry and amulets.”

The leading authors of the study of the mummy, Dr Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University, and the archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, said the fact that the mummy had not been opened in modern times provided a unique research opportunity. They discovered that the pharaoh was about 35 years old at the time of his death and was 1.69 centimeters (5 feet 6.5 inches) tall.

He had been circumcised and his teeth were in good condition. His inner organs, other than his brain and heart, had been removed by his embalmers. The researchers found no sign of injury or illness that would indicate the cause of the pharaoh’s death.

The Face mask of the never-before unwrapped mummy of pharaoh Amenhotep I.Credit: S. Saleem and Z. Nuwass

Inside the shroud, Amenhotep I was found to be wearing 30 amulets and a unique girdle with gold beads. It was also discovered that the pharaoh resembled his father, Ahmose I, the founder of the 18th Dynasty, who had reunited Egypt. Both had a narrow chin and nose, curly hair and somewhat protruding upper teeth.

Sweeney surmises that Amenhotep I’s mummy was so extraordinarily well-preserved because he became a local god to the community of builders of the royal tombs. “He was considered a god who protected their village and was their patron, and was also worshipped in other parts of that area,” she said.

He ruled for about 20 years, at the end of the 16th century B.C.E. During his time, Egypt enjoyed relative security and prosperity thanks to its conquests in the Levant and in northern Sudan, where there was gold. He ascended to the throne as a child, Sweeney noted, and his mother, Ahmose-Nefertari, managed the affairs of state until he reached an age at which he could do so on his own. Even later in his life, his mother was considered an influential figure in the kingdom.

Amenhotep I continued to pursue efforts undertaken by his father, Sweeney said, including military conquests. He held southern Canaan to protect Egypt’s borders and cultivated ties with Lebanon, which was a source of the cedarwood required for lavish construction. His mummy was found in 1881 at the necropolisat Deir al-Bahari on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Luxor in southern Egypt. In April of this year, his mummy was transferred with 21 other royal mummies to a new museum in Cairo.

The scan of his mummy demonstrates that the technique can be used for archaeological and anthropological research on other mummies, the researchers said, in addition to studying cultures in other locations, such as Peru.

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