The mummy of pharaoh Amenhotep that I “unwrapped” digitally for the first time

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Amenhotep I ruled Egypt from 1525 to 1504 BC His mummy, discovered at Luxor in 1881, had never been unpacked. Now it is performed, virtually, thanks to computer-assisted tomography, a 3D medical imaging technique. Egyptologists now have a three-dimensional reconstruction of the body of Amenhotep I, providing, among other things, information about his appearance and the mummification methods of the time.

Amenhotep I ruled Egypt for approximately 21 years (c. 1525-1504 BC) during the New Kingdom period. He is the second king of the 18th Dynasty to ascend to the throne after the death of his father Ahmose I. The name Amenhotep means “Amun is satisfied”, and he has had a peaceful reign that has allowed him to concentrate on administrative organization and ordering. the construction of temples.

While all the royal mummies discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries had been opened for study, that of Pharaoh Amenhotep I was missing. The reason? A very well preserved packaging, beautifully decorated with garlands of flowers, and an ornate mask that no one dared to spoil. But for the first time, Egyptian scientists used a 3D scanner to digitally “unwrap” this real mummy and study its contents.

A unique opportunity to study the conditions of mummification.

The pharaoh’s mummy was discovered by a French Egyptologist in 1881 at the royal hideout of Deir el-Bahari in Luxor, where 21st Dynasty officials hid the mummies of various New Kingdom kings to protect them from grave robbers. “The fact that the mummy of Amenhotep I was never unwrapped in modern times provided us with a unique opportunity: not only to study how it was originally prepared and buried, but also how it came to be. It was treated and buried twice, centuries. after his death, by the high priests of Amun, ”said Dr. Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at Cairo University School of Medicine and author in a statement, director of the study.

Speaking of which, the new study seems to answer a long-standing mystery: Previous scans revealed that Amenhotep I was embalmed by Egyptian priests for the second time 300 years after his first burial, after the gravediggers were buried. His coffin was apparently looted. Sahar Saleem then hypothesized that the priests had taken this opportunity to steal precious jewels, before embalming them again. But the many jewels revealed by the scanner indicate that the priests instead embalmed Amenhotep I with “love,” according to Saleem.

Towards the use of computer-assisted tomography in mummies?

Originally, Egyptian researchers hypothesized that non-invasive digital “unpacking” using computer-assisted tomography (CT) would provide information on physical appearance, health, cause of death, and style. Mummification of King Amenhotep I. The technique uses hundreds of high-resolution X-ray sections to map the skeleton and soft tissues, and generate two- and three-dimensional images.

The imaging technique reveals that this ancient Egyptian king was 35 years old at the time of his death, six feet tall, circumcised, and had “good teeth.” It also appears that Amenhotep I was physically similar to his father: narrow chin and small nose, curly hair, and slightly protruding upper teeth. The mummy has 30 charms / jewels and a gold beaded gold belt.

Left: pharaoh skull. Right: the mummy, showing its skull and skeleton under the bandages. © S. Saleem and Z. Nuwass, 2021.

“We were unable to find any injury or disfigurement due to disease to justify cause of death, with the exception of numerous post-mortem mutilations, allegedly by grave robbers after their first burial. The first mummifiers had removed his entrails, but not his brain or heart, ”says Saleem. Furthermore, Amenhotep I is the first pharaoh of the New Kingdom to be mummified with his arms crossed.

The researchers here show that CT images can be used to advantage in anthropological and archaeological studies of mummies, including those of other civilizations.

Frontiers in Medicine

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