Sunday, April 15, 2018

Scanning the Pharaohs

Zahi Hawass
Sahar N. Saleem
The American University in Cairo Press
Cairo, New York
ISBN 978 977 416 673 0

I was thrilled when I opened a birthday present from a friend and found this book. Hard to believe I have not read it yet, though, I have done little reading in the last year. The book opens with a rundown of the studies involved in the Egyptian Mummy Project. The non-invasive techniques include CT scans providing detailed information about the physical conditions of the royal mummies as well as DNA results that may show familial relationships between Egypt's collection of ancient royal mummies of the period of the New Kingdom.

Dr. Hawass reviews his discoveries over the years and explains his impetus for the Egyptian Mummy Project which includes questions regarding those mummies believed to be relatives to Tutankhamun as well as the searches for Nefertiti and the female king, Hatshepsut. Looking at the identity of Unknown man "E" and a verification of the cause of death of the mummy of King Ramesses III by a conspiracy within his harem.

Chapter one with all the technical words needed to layout the sciences involved is a bit of a difficult read, though, there is an ample supply of images to guide the reader. If the rest of the book is anything like the first chapter it is likely suitable for those readers 18 and over, definitely not for the younger reader. In the second chapter, Dr. Hawass explains the discoveries of the royal mummies including the great cache of Deir al Bahri in tomb 320 and Valley of the Kings tomb 35 belonging to King Amenhotep II. We are also informed that there are only two mummies left in the Valley of the Kings including the boy in the tomb of Thutmosis IV and the boy in the tomb of Amenhotep II.

There is a mistake in picture fig. 14 as it is described as the mummy of Amenhotep II when in reality it is Amenhotep I that is pictured.

Dr. Hawass begins his search by examining the mummy labeled in the Cairo Museum as Thutmosis I, Hatshepsut's father. This mummy has long been doubted to be of that king as his arms are not crossed over his chest as well as the mummy appears to be young at the time of death when the historical record indicates Thutmosis I was probably around 50 when he died. The youth of the mummy and an arrowhead in its chest make it unlikely to be that king.

We are next on to the search for the mummy of Hatshepsut with a number of unnamed female mummies under consideration including two mummies found in the small tomb in the Valley of the Kings known as KV 60. Two more unknown females having been found in tomb DB320 along with a canopic box bearing Hatshepsut's cartouche, a liver, and a broken tooth. In the end, the discovery of the unfortunate cancerous mummy believed to be Hatshepsut may be Dr. Hawass' greatest legacy.

Chapter four examines a number of mid-to-late 18th dynasty mummies including the parents of Queen Tiye, Yuya, and Thuya. Also included the younger and elder ladies from the tomb of Amenhotep II as well as the controversial mummy from Valley of the Kings tomb KV 55. The DNA results provide Dr. Hawass and his team their second great discovery by giving the elder lady back her name, while the CT scans demonstrate that Tutankhamun's mother likely met with an early and traumatic death.

The CT scans on the mummy of King Tutankhamun confirm once again the carnage the king's mummy suffered at the hands of Howard Carter and anatomist Douglas Derry who cut apart the body to remove the accouterments of the mummy. These operations have not only damaged the king but also potentially marred any evidence of the cause of death ever being discovered. The results of the scans and DNA of late 18th dynasty royal mummies reveals that among other things that Tutankhamun's mother and father were full blooded brother and sister.

The fame and legendary beauty of Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife Nefertiti have led many people to speculate about her presence among the known royal mummies including myself, that is if she has been discovered and is not still in her sealed tomb. The DNA findings certainly show that she is not Tutankhamun's mother and probably not buried behind a wall in his tomb the truth is potentially a lot more disturbing.

The authors move on to tests on some of the Dynasty 19 mummies in the collection including Seti I father of Ramesses II. Seti's head is the masterpiece of the art of mummification though his body has been badly damaged probably by ancient tomb robbers. The mummy has been piously restored a number of times by priests according to dockets on his coffin and wrappings. Because of x-rays, it has been known for a long time that Seti has an amulet of a wadjet eye on his left shoulder, however, the CT scans revealed it is not alone among his wrappings. This section of the book is followed by forty pages of color pictures with many of the amazing CT scans and their findings from the mummies.

With chapter 10 we find the authors dealing with the mummy of King Ramesses III and the possibility that this king was murdered as it is described in contemporary court documents known today as "The Harem Conspiracy". The conspiracy involved more than three dozen people many who had associations with Ramesses III's harem and in particular, Queen Teye whose ambition was to put her son on the throne though not the legitimate heir. Dr. Hawass has believed for some time that a mummy found in the royal cache tomb DB320 known as Unknown man "E" may be Teye's son Pentaware. The papyrus tells us that more than two dozen people were found guilty and put to death and that ten of the most senior members of the plot were allowed to commit suicide. The CT scans of Unknown man "E" displayed an anomaly in the mummies neck indicating a cause of death as strangulation possible hanging this being a lot more pleasant than what probably happened to those sentenced to death.

The CT scans have greatly enriched our knowledge of the evolution of mummification among the royal courts of ancient Egypt's New Kingdom as the DNA samples have exposed family relations, particularly in this case Tutankhamun's family and ancestors of his dynasty but also the mummies of  Dynasties 19 and 20. Many readers will find the reading difficult with the large latin names of various parts of the human body that are often followed by a measurement and/or a formula for a measure.

We are next to objects found on the bodies including jewelry and funerary amulets and other articles including a pair of metallic shoes on the feet of the mummy of Thuya mother of Queen Tiye and what appears to be a metallic arrowhead in the chest of a young Thutmoside mummy formerly regarded as a king. A number of the mummies have scattered beads among their wrappings or in their chest cavity.

The book ends with a section on the reconstruction of faces of the royal mummies with an emphasis on the debateable reconstruction of Tutankhamun from a number of years ago looking a little too Anglo-Saxon for comfort.

It is true the book was hard to put down I was enthralled as I am a total mummy guy who has read many of the previous studies of the royal mummy collection, however, the detailed nature of the book will make for excellent references and if your a mummy person or a doctor you will enjoy this book but for those looking for light reading this will not be the book. Egyptologist and those interested in mummies and in the field of medicine should run and get this book it is a must-have!

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