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Egyptian archaeologists unwrap Amenhotep I mummy, rewrite history

Egyptian archaeologists rewrite history after digitally unwrapping the mummy of Pharaoh King Amenhotep I, whose secrets were kept for thousands of years.
The tomb of Thuya, the mother of Queen Tiye who was the Great Royal Wife of Pharoah Amenhotep III, is displayed at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 15, 2014.

The mummy of Egyptian Pharaoh King Amenhotep I has kept its secrets under a funerary mask for nearly a century and a half since its discovery in 1881, until Egyptian archaeologists were able to recently unwrap it.

An Egyptian research team consisting of Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine, and Egyptologist and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass managed to examine the mummy of the king, whose rule of Egypt (1525-1504 B.C.), by digitally unwrapping it using advanced computerized tomography (CT) scans.

The mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I was found in Deir el-Bahari Temple in Luxor in Upper Egypt 140 years ago, but archaeologists have refrained from opening it in order to preserve the exquisite face mask and bandages.

According to a study published in Frontiers in Medicine Dec. 28, Hawass and Saleem have managed to reveal the secrets of the mummy through advanced 3D digital images while preserving the head mask.

Saleem, the lead author of the study, told Al-Monitor that the importance of this study, which began in May 2019, stems from the fact that this mummy is one of the few royal mummies that are yet to be unwrapped in order for their contents and the method used for their mummification in the modern era to be revealed.

She said that the study resorted to a noninvasive method in a bid to safely examine and unwrap the Egyptian pharaoh through CT technology along with advanced computer programs.

The study revealed for the first time the face, age and health condition of the pharaoh in addition to many secrets of the mummification and reburial of the mummy. Saleem said that revealing the face of the Egyptian king was a defining moment for her, as the first person in the world to see his face after he was reburied nearly 3,000 years ago.

Unwrapping the mummy to reach the king’s face by reconstructing the images in a two- and three-dimensional way was the most difficult stage of the examination that Saleem went through in order to preserve the features of the face and body details to reach accurate results.

Amenhotep I, the second king of the 18th Dynasty who ruled Egypt for more than 21 years, inherited the features of his father, Ahmose I, the unifier of Egypt, expeller of the Hyksos and founder of the modern Pharaonic state, whose mummy is currently in the Luxor Museum.

“X-rays showed the features of the face of King Amenhotep I. His face was oval, and he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair and slightly protruding upper teeth. He widely and distinctively resembled his father,” Saleem noted.

CT technology showed that the Pharaonic king died around the age of 35, based on his bone fusion and the good condition of his teeth. Saleem said they did not notice any wounds or disfigurements from an illness that might indicate the cause of his death. Scientists rarely know the cause of death of mummies, in the absence of traces on the mummy’s bones or soft tissues, such as the liver and intestines, as these are usually removed during the mummification process.

“The death could have been due to an infection that did not leave a trace or a virus. The cause is yet to be revealed,” Saleem added.

An analysis of the CT images indicated the royal mummification technique. To save the body from rotting, the intestines were removed by making a vertical incision on the left side of the lower abdomen.

Amenhotep I is the first pharaoh to be mummified with his forearms crossed on his chest and his brain unremoved from his skull. This, according to Saleem, is rare. She said she has thus far examined 40 royal mummies and concluded that the brain was commonly removed during the mummification process of the kings of the New Kingdom.

She noted that they found 30 amulets (golden beads) in the mummy, and the king is still wearing a unique golden belt embroidered with 34 golden beads attached to an amulet in the form of a shell.

X-rays showed that the mummy was attacked by grave robbers, which prompted the priests of the 21st Dynasty, which ruled four centuries after his death, to restore the mummy twice. According to Saleem, the original tomb of Amenhotep I is yet to be found, as officials of the 21st Dynasty hid the mummies of many kings of the modern state to protect them from grave robbers.

The mummification operations included stabilizing both the head and the neck, which were separated from the body, by using a tape of linen treated with resin (adhesive). They also included covering a lacerated hole in the anterior abdominal wall with a linen tape and an amulet in order for the king to heal, as per their beliefs.

Saleem said that the jewelry and amulets seen in the scans refuted for the first time previous theories whereby priests of the 21st Dynasty may have opened the tombs of former kings in order to reuse royal burial equipment or steal valuables.

She added, “We have restored confidence in the nobility of the objective behind the 21st Dynasty’s reburial of the royal mummies. … It was important to emphasize that our ancestors built a great civilization and not a civilization based on thefts.”

The mummy of King Amenhotep I is currently resting in the Museum of Civilization in Fustat, south of Cairo, after it was transferred from the Egyptian Museum on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in April 2021, in a historic procession held to transport a number of royal mummies.

Saleem used CT scans to examine more than 40 ancient royal mummies from the New Kingdom as part of the Mummies Project, which has been ongoing since 2005 under the supervision of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

She stressed the importance of safely adopting CT technology without damaging the mummies and their secrets.

In 2012, this technique managed to reveal the secrets of the killing of King Ramses III in the Harem conspiracy, and the secrets of the killing of King Seqenenre Tao in the battle to liberate Egypt from the Hyksos invaders were revealed in February 2021.

Saleem, who has been working in the field of archaeological radiology since 2004, said that they have rewritten history through this project and that they will be adopting this CT technology in all future archaeological discoveries.

She called on the countries that still keep in their museums smuggled Egyptian mummies that were illegally taken out of Egypt in previous eras to follow digital methods in examining them if the need arises in order to preserve them as a cultural heritage and honor the body of their owner.

“We are preserving a human heritage,” Saleem said. “Mummies must be dealt with in a manner befitting humans after death.

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