If all mummies were covered like a recently discovered one, mummy movies would probably be less scary … but perhaps a little kinky. CT scans of a mummified adult from Egypt, now in the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney showed the body to be covered in a mud shell or carapace, a mortuary treatment not previously documented in Egypt. Would a movie with wrestling mud mummies be classified as horror … or porn?
“The mummified body was acquired by Sir Charles Nicholson during his trip to Egypt in 1856–1857. Little is known about its acquisition, as is sadly the case for many human bodies procured in Egypt by European and American collectors in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The mummified body, the lidded coffin in which it rested and its mummy board originated in Western Thebes and was likely purchased in Luxor. The ensemble was donated to the University of Sydney by Nicholson in 1860.”
The initial history of this mummy is the sad history shared by so many artifacts looted, sold and resold for decades from the tombs of both royals and non-royals throughout Egypt. This one was identified as belonging to a titled woman named Meruah and dated to the mid–late 21st Dynasty around 1010–945 BCE. That about all that was known until recently when Karin Sowada from the Department of History and Archaeology at Sydney’s Macquarie University led a new study, published in PLOS ONE, led a team which conducted μ-XRF and Raman spectroscopy of carapace fragments. That analysis revealed it to consist of three layers – a thin base layer of mud, a coating of white calcite-based pigment and a red-painted surface of mixed composition. (Photos here.) While resin carapaces (shells) have been found in royal tombs, this mud carapace is unique. Of course, what’s inside told them more.
“Using this new visualization of the dentition and skeleton, the authors determined the mummified individual was a young middle adult (26-35 years). Though the body scans did not reveal external genitalia, and internal reproductive organs had been removed during the mummification process, osseous secondary sexual characteristics (hip bones, jaw, and cranium) strongly suggest the mummified individual was female. The current analysis of the mummification technique and radiocarbon dating of textile samples from the linen wrappings place the mummified individual in the late New Kingdom (c. 1200-1113 BC).”
It appears the body and the carapace are older than the coffin it was in, suggesting this was not its original coffin and may have been placed in this one to be sold as a ‘complete mummy set’. . Moreover, the scans showed the body was damaged soon after its original mummification, suggesting the purpose of the mud carapace was to restore it – or at least hold it together better. Sowada speculates that this was a non-royal whose family used the cheap mud carapace to emulate the more expensive resin ones of the royals and the rich. However, the painted surface of the carapace shows they weren’t poor.
“Although the social position of the individual cannot be determined, those caring for this person in death were of sufficient means to afford complex embalming including evisceration, internal packing and linen wrappings. They, or others associated with the deceased, had enough concern for the latter’s posthumous well-being to later invest in a mud-plastered and painted carapace after the body had been disturbed and dismembered.”
Royal mummies get all of the attention and demanded the highest prices on the black market for looted antiquities, but Sowada believes much more can be learned from these non-royal mummies, like how common the practice was in the late New Kingdom. More need to be studied and she expects more mud mummies to be found.
“Curse of the Mud Mummies” – horror or comedy film?