Now, if I read this article from The Times correctly, scientists have undertaken an advanced post mortem on the son of our very own Ankh-af-na-Khonsu…
“Nesperennub’s father, a priest called Ankhefenkhons whose coffin is also in the British Museum, handed down various titles. He was Fan-Bearer on the Right Hand of Khons, which gave him direct access to the pharoah, and Opener of the Doors of Heaven, responsible for the daily opening of the shrine.”
The Times, London
June 28, 2004
Technology unveils the heart of ancient Egypt By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent
AN EGYPTIAN high priest mummified nearly 3,000 years ago has been given a face with the use of groundbreaking technology.
For the first time archaeologists at the British Museum have been able to see through a sealed sarcophagus and the mummy’s bandaging with remarkable clarity. As a result, scientists have been able to construct a 3D portrait of Nesperennub, a high-status priest of Karnak, using the latest medical scanners and computer technology.
The clear images that emerged from inside the coffin revealed a man in his early forties with a prominent jaw, wide nose and a shaved head, reflecting his status as a priest. Even the worn state of his teeth could be seen in remarkable detail: Nesperennub had such an acute abscess that the pain may well have made him irritable and short-tempered.
Until now the only way to obtain such clear information was to unwrap the mummies, but that causes destruction of the mummy: soft tissue disintegrates and turns to dust.
In the case of Nesperennub computerised tomography, which is used in hospitals primarily for head radiology, was combined with the latest computer technology to allow a non-invasive ‘virtual’ unwrapping and autopsy.
The scan, at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, involved X-ray beams being passed through the mummified body from different angles. It offered a picture that conventional X-rays could not achieve because of obstructions caused by resin and dense packing materials.
A snake amulet and a clay bowl that were among objects buried with Nesperennub previously appeared only as blurred blobs. Now they can be seen so clearly that the indentations of the potter’s fingers and thumb can be detected on the bowl.
John Taylor, the British Museum’s assistant keeper in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, said: ‘After 2,800 years, technology has unlocked the mummy’s secrets, bringing museum visitors face to face with a man from the remote past.
‘Just like a freshly discovered archaeological site, the mummy contains a wealth of data about the remote past that remained inaccessible. The latest non-invasive imaging technology has revealed what lies inside.’
The British Museum houses the most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo, including 100 mummies.
Nesperennub was discovered at Luxor, the site of the ancient city of Thebes, in the 1890s and was bought for 150 by E.A. Wallis Budge, a British Museum curator.
The museum decided to try out the new technology on him because his coffin is among only ten that have remained sealed since he was embalmed 2,800 years ago. Dr Taylor said: ‘We knew that everything inside would be exactly as it was how they left it. Inscriptions also gave us quite a bit of background on Nesperennub. We could date him and knew where he worked, which is rare.
‘Most of the mummies are anonymous. Often the mummy has been taken out of the coffin and sometimes the mummy and the coffin were mixed up, particularly in the 19th century.’
While the snake amulet over Nesperennub’s right eye was perhaps intended to guard him against evil forces in the afterlife, the clay bowl is more puzzling.
Dr Taylor believes it was part of the embalmers’ equipment that somehow became embedded by mistake in the molten resin used to soak the bandaging.
He said: ‘An area on the back of the head from which the skin appears to have been torn away may represent an unsuccessful attempt to prise off the lumps of resin that anchored the bowl in place . . . The embalmers may have decided to proceed with the wrapping of the body, hoping their mistake would pass unnoticed.’
The scanning showed that skin and muscle tissue are well-preserved throughout the whole body, including the hands, feet, fingers, toes and genitals. Even the toe and fingernails can be seen.
The faces on Ancient Egyptian coffins bore no connection to the person inside, but were idealised likenesses. The embalmers made the actual face appear lifelike by inserting packing materials such as sand and mud to fill out the shrunken features.
The head was treated with special care because the Egyptians thought it was important for the dead person to have the continued use of their eyes, ears, nose and mouth.
The skeleton is complete, with no broken bones, but there is one mystery: a small hole in the bone above the left eye. ‘It does not have any connection with the process of mummification,’ Dr Taylor said. ‘The brain was usually extracted via the nose. There are no traces of cracking or splitting of the bone, as might be expected if the hole had been caused by a blow or a wound with a sharp instrument or weapon.’ He suggests that Nesperennub might have suffered from a tumour or an illness which attacked the bone of his skull.
A selection of more than 1,500 cross-sectional scanned images led to a complete 3D reconstruction of the mummy by a team at Manchester University, using techniques in cases of murder and fire. They built up a muscle structure in clay based on the mummy’s facial tissue depths, using pegs on a replica of the skull.
Dr Taylor said of the resulting likeness: ‘It’s close anough for someone who knew him to say, ‘Yes, that’s him’.’
Nesperennub and the new findings are explored in The BP Special Exhibition: Mummy The Inside Story, from Thursday until January 2005 at the British Museum
THE GOOD LIFE
NESPERENNUB was a priest who lived around 800BC and is thought to have served in the temple of Amun-Ra the supreme God of the Egyptians — in the great religious complex of Karnak. His family was linked for centuries with the cult of Khons, an ancient deity associated with the Moon.
Nesperennub’s father, a priest called Ankhefenkhons whose coffin is also in the British Museum, handed down various titles. He was Fan-Bearer on the Right Hand of Khons, which gave him direct access to the pharoah, and Opener of the Doors of Heaven, responsible for the daily opening of the shrine.
Nesperennub’s wife, Neskhonspakhered, was the daughter of a priest of Khons.
As a priest, Nesperennub would have enjoyed a privileged and comfortable lifestyle with no manual work and a healthy diet of bread, fruit, vegetables, beef and poultry with beer and wine to drink.
Life expectancy was about 35. Diseases and minor injuries that are easily treated today were fatal then. Nesperennub lived into his early forties — a grand old age.
Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.