British Museum reveals secrets of the mummies in Ancient Lives, new Discoveries show

By Richard Moss | 21 May 2014

The British Museum is digitally unwrapping eight of its precious mummies to reveal some astonishing details about life and death in Ancient Egypt

Click below to see large scale pictures from the exhibition

Mummies have not been unwrapped at the British Museum for more than 200 years. Since the 1960s, experts have used all the available scanning technology to try and explore them.

But thanks to a rigorous round of high-tech CT scanning and 3D visualisations the remains of eight people who lived in the Nile Valley thousands of years ago are giving up their secrets.

One of the most intriguing is the mummy of a woman called Tamut who was a chantress in the temple of Karnak in modern-day Luxor in Egypt. Scans have revealed in incredible detail her hair and face and even the fat deposits in her arteries, which may have led to her death from heart attack or stroke.

This elite burial involved the placing of amulets and other magical trappings on the body. An interactive digital visualisation and 3D prints allow visitors to examine these ritual objects.

Scans have also revealed some surprising findings, including a long rod lying in the base of another mummy’s skull – an embalmer’s tool which had broken off and been left with the remnants of brain. The brains of mummies were usually fully removed with a tool that dragged them out through the nostrils.

Each mummy is accompanied by large-screen visualisations which journey into the body, through the skin to reveal organs, skeleton and the secrets of mummification.

The mummies selected cover a period of more than 4,000 years, from the Predynastic period to the Christian era and from sites in Egypt and the Sudan. The emphasis is on revealing different aspects of living and dying in the ancient Nile Valley.

Mummification was used by people at different levels of society, not just being the preserve of Pharaohs. New technology is giving curators the chance to compare mummies from different parts of Egypt. Experts are also comparing embalming techniques and exploring the lives of Ancient Egyptians from all walks of life.

  • Ancient Lives, new Discoveries is in Room 5 until November 30 2014. Admission £10/£8 (free for under-16s), book online.

An accompanying publication Ancient Lives, new Discoveries: Eight mummies, Eight Stories, by John H. Taylor and Daniel Antoine, is published this month by British Museum Press. Paperback, £19.99.

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