Mummy of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I is “digitally unwrapped,” revealing secrets after 3,000 years

The mummy of Amenhotep I was well-preserved, allowing them to uncover information about the ruler and his burial in “unprecedented detail”

Li Cohen – CBS News

For the first time, scientists have used three-dimensional technology to “digitally unwrap” the mummy of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh that had not been opened in 3,000 years. Scientists said the mummy of Amenhotep I was well preserved, allowing them to uncover information about the ruler and his burial in “unprecedented detail.” 

The researchers used 3D computed tomography (CT) scanning to peer inside the mummy of Amenhotep I, who ruled Egypt from roughly 1525 to 1504 BCE. The ruler’s mummy was found fully wrapped in 1881, and according to researchers, is one of the few royal mummies to not be physically unwrapped in modern times. 

The scans revealed that Amenhotep was buried with 30 amulets and jewellery pieces, including a beaded metallic girdle. The researchers published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

Sahar Saleem, radiologist of the Egyptian Mummy Project and first author of the study, said that the pharaoh’s mystery provided researchers with a “unique opportunity.” 

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his death, by High Priests of Amun,” she said in a statement. “By digitally unwrapping of the mummy and ‘peeling off’ its virtual layers — the facemask, the bandages, and the mummy itself — we could study this well-preserved pharaoh in unprecedented detail.”

mummy of Amenhotep I - side view of head
CT image of the head of the wrapped mummy of Amenhotep I reveals the component layers: the mask, the head of the mummy, and the surrounding bandages. SAHAR N. SALEEM, ZAHI HAWASS / FRONTIERS IN MEDICINE

The scientists learned that Amenhotep was roughly 35 years old when he died of unknown causes. The pharaoh was originally thought to have died between the ages of 40 and 50, based on a 1932 X-ray study, and then a 1967 study estimated that he was around the age of 25.

“He was approximately 169 cm [5-and-a-half feet] tall, circumcised, and had good teeth,” Saleem said. “Amenhotep I seems to have physically resembled his father: he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair, and mildly protruding upper teeth.” 

His name was confirmed by hieroglyphic inscriptions on the coffin. The mummy was wrapped in linen and “covered from head to feet” in red, yellow, and blue floral garlands. On top was a mask with pupils made of obsidian crystals.

Amenhotep’s entrails had also been removed when he was first mummified, researchers found, but not his brain or heart. And though “well-preserved,” the pharaoh’s remains did sustain several injuries after his death, including decapitation and a “detached left upper limb,” likely caused by tomb robbers. 21st Dynasty embalmers attempted to fix and rewrap the mummy about five centuries after Amenhotep’s death.

“We show that at least for Amenhotep I, the priests of the 21st dynasty lovingly repaired the injuries inflicted by the tomb robbers, restored his mummy to its former glory, and preserved the magnificent jewellery and amulets in place,” Saleem said.

feature image: head mask of the mummy of Amenhotep I – SAHAR N. SALEEM, ZAHI HAWASS / FRONTIERS IN MEDICINE

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