Wednesday 20 September 2017

Mummy 'fattened up' by embalmers

Eight mummies will go on show in a new exhibition at the British Museum
Eight mummies will go on show in a new exhibition at the British Museum

A mummy that appears to have been fattened up by his embalmers is among eight that will go on show at the British Museum.

The mummies cover a period of more than 4,000 years and include two children, a temple singer and a doorkeepe r.

The eight individuals include a 5ft 6in mummy from the Roman period which was discovered in the 1820s but puzzled experts because it appeared to have prominent breasts as well as a painted beard.

Using CT technology, researchers have confirmed that he is a man after all and that his breasts and thighs were plumped out, by his embalmers, with cloth padding inserted underneath his wrappings.

Curator Dr John Taylor said: "It was very puzzling. He has a beard painted on his wrapping but his breasts looked plumped up. There's always been this question: 'Is this a man or a woman?' Now we've done the scans we know this is a man."

He added: "His family must have wanted him to look like that in death. But his skin is quite loose over his bones suggesting that his appearance relates to how he looked in life.

"But showing him overweight was very unusual. Normally they presented mummies as young and physically idealised. "

The mummies have been subject to scientific investigation using a new generation of medical CT scanners.

Through the use of technology, visitors will be able to see inside the mummy cases and examine the bodies and ornaments placed on some of them while their layers of wrapping are left intact.

The mummy of a child temple singer, embalmed at around seven or eight years of age, is also on display, with digital visualisations revealing developing teeth and long hair.

Visitors will be able to see the amulets and "magical trappings" placed on a female adult temple singer, who was subject to an elite burial, the highest level of mummification available at around 900BC.

She is thought to have suffered from cardiovascular disease, as it was discovered that the arteries in her legs were covered in calcified plaque.

Another mummy, from a medieval Christian community, was found to have a tattoo on her inner thigh, representing a monogram of the Archangel Michael, patron saint of the Sudan.

Ancient Lives, New Discoveries is sponsored by Julius Baer and runs from May 22 to November 30 at the British Museum.

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