Face from ancient Egypt

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
In 1965 the late Dr Kittermaster, a pathologist at St Thomas's hospital in London, conducted a post mortem on an Egyptian mummy, believed to be that of that of a male royal carpenter (circa 700 bc) and learned that it was in fact a female in her teens or 20s. Several years later, Dr Kittermaster gave the mummy to our school. It became mislaid and forgotten about, but its rediscovery this summer stimulated a group of sixth-formers to conduct some research into the many questions the mummy posed. How old was the mummy? What was its age at death? Would it be possible to establish the cause of death? What did she look like in life?

Rosalie David, keeper of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum and professor of biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester, offered to investigate the Kittermaster mummy. Professor David leads a team pioneering the use of medical techniques in mummy research. She invited our students to Manchester to start work on the mummy. In her opinion, the Kittermaster mummy dates from the New Kingdom (1500 bc), but this will be determined by carbon dating. Using an endoscope, the students collected tissue samples from inside the mummy's head.

In addition to answering the students' questions, research on mummy tissue samples at Manchester is providing information on the DNA profiles of diseases in Ancient Egypt.

It is hoped that this knowledge of the ancient profiles of conditions such as schistosomiasis will help in the development of treatments and vaccines for modern forms of these same diseases.

During their endoscopy work the students discovered a displaced neck vertebra, and other evidence to suggest that the cause of death could have been strangulation.

Finally, the mummy's head was taken to the art in medicine department, where the face will be reconstructed.

The students are very much looking forward to the results from the tissue samples they have taken and also to see the reconstructed living face of the mummy, the face of a woman who lived more than 3,000 years ago.

Gerard Thraves

Acting head of science, Uplands Community Technology College, East Sussex

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