Offering scientists a tantalizing glimpse of the individual’s life and death, forensic science and 3D printing has helped in the reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy’s head and face.
In the collections of the University of Melbourne in Australia, the mummified head was found by accident. During an audit, a museum curator came across the remains and was worried about the state of the specimen, therefore sent it for a computed tomography (CT) scan.
A biological anthropologist in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, Varsha Pilbrow told:
“Turns out, [the skull] is actually quite intact; it has got bandages and looks well on the inside. Of course, that then allowed us to think what to do next.”
With the help of the scans, Pilbrow and her team made use of the help of an imaging specialist and created a 3D-printed replica of the mummy’s skull. After this, the facial-bone features of the specimen were studied by the scientists, like the size and angle of the jaw and characteristics of the eye sockets, to find out that the head belonged to a female. The specimen is being called Meritamun by the researchers. As per them, she was likely under the age of 25 at the time of her death and was significant enough to be mummified. Pilbrow also told:
“It is quite fascinating that we did all of this without destroying the specimen in any way, and that is important from a museum curatorial point of view.”
The true origins of the mummified head are still to be known. As per scientists, it belonged in the collections a professor who conducted archeological work in Egypt before joining as the head of anatomy at the University of Melbourne in 1930, Frederic Wood Jones. In addition to this, the researchers also hold the view that Meritamun was mummified in Egypt and that she may have lived at least 2,000 years ago from the distinctive style of the linen bandaging and embalming of the specimen. They have planned to use radiocarbon dating now in order to date the specimen more accurately.
In the meantime, details about Meritamun, such as her dental abnormalities and diseases she might have had are also being unveiled by means of the CT scans and 3D-printed replica of the skull.
While talking to Live Science, Pilbrow explained:
“We noticed that the top of her skull is very thin. It is extremely porous. It suggests that she would have suffered from severe anemia.”
The swelling of bone marrow must be the consequence of a deficiency of hemoglobin and oxygen, as it tried producing more red blood cells and thinning of the skull bone. As Pilbrow stated:
“Anemia and dental pathologies were quite prevalent among Egyptian populations.”
Although this offers only one possible clue about how Meritamun died, Pilbrow and her co-workers are still looking into other factors that may have cost the young woman her life. This research is still to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.