Egyptian mummy of Amenhotep I is ‘digitally unwrapped’

CAIRO – Egyptian scientists unwrapped a 3,500-year-old royal mummy without removing a single layer of embalming cloth.

Instead, they used advanced X-ray technology and computed tomography (CT) to glimpse the mummified body of King Amenhotep I and the secrets it has held for millennia.

“For the first time, we can know information about the mummy without disturbing the mummy,” according to Zahi Hawass, a prominent Egyptologist and one of the scientists involved in the research.

The CT scans show the head of Amenhotep I.Courtesy of Zahi Hawass

The results were published Tuesday in a study co-authored by Hawass and Dr Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology in the department of medicine at Cairo University. Thanks to the scanning technology, the researchers were able to see the face of the former king. They also learned of his age, size and condition when he passed away.

3D images generated by the study showed Amenhotep I to have an oval face with a narrow chin, small nose, and slightly protruding upper teeth.

He was around 35 years old at the time of his death, based on his bone analysis, and was in general good health with no illness or injury suggesting how he died. His teeth were also remarkably intact, the researchers found.

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The study also found that King Amenhotep I’s brain was not removed during the mummification process unlike most kings in the modern kingdom such as Tutankhamun and Ramses II, and it was buried along with 30 amulets and a belt with gold beads.

Amenhotep I ruled Egypt for approximately 21 years between 1525 and 1504 BC. His original grave has never been located, but his mummy was found buried in Luxor in 1881.

The CT technology employed is normally used in clinical settings to scan the bodies of living humans, Saleem told NBC News via WhatsApp Messenger on Tuesday. But it can also help study mummies in a non-disruptive way.

“Today, we no longer physically unpack the mummies,” said Saleem, who is based in the capital Cairo. “We preserve our heritage and study it with non-invasive techniques.”

Along with Amenhotep I, Saleem said he took thousands of cross-sections of very thin CT scans of the mummy, and when combined, the images formed a full 3D reconstruction of the king’s body, she added.

“Like slices of toast, when put together make a full loaf of bread,” Saleem said. “The technique allowed me to digitally remove the wrapper to visualize the amulets between the layers and to visualize the face of the mummy.”

Hawass, who is also based in Cairo, said it wasn’t the first time a mummy had been scanned, but it was the first full scan of its kind.

In an audio message sent through WhatsApp Messenger, he said he hoped to use the same technology soon.

“We are now planning to do the same type of study on all royal mummies,” Hawass added.

Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo, Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.

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