Secrets of a mummy.
Scientists no longer need to unwrap Ancient Egyptian mummies in their search for knowledge. CT scans are helping to uncover the secret of one upper class girl, as Egyptologist Gill Scott tells Clare Clayton.
It was 3,000 years ago when the structure of Bakt Hor Nekht's face was last seen. The Egyptian mummy, who was a high status young woman, has never been unwrapped. But by using a Computerised Tomography (CT) scanner, Egyptologists have been able to paint a 3D picture of the ancient corpse.
Bakt Hor Nekht was bought in 1820 by Thomas Coates, a collector from Haydon Bridge, and donated to Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society. She had been found in a tomb at Gourneh in Thebes (modern day Luxor) and dates from around 1070BC-712BC.
The body lies within a beautifully decorated inner coffin which was placed in a richly adorned sycamore coffin.
From the late 1800s doctors and aristocratic entertainers brought Ancient Egyptian mummified remains to England for scientific study and another mummy, Irt Irw, given to the Lit & Phil around the same time, was unwrapped.
Gill Scott, an Egyptologist at Tyne & Wear Museums, says: "It was probably the case that the two mummies made a nice contrast to have one unwrapped and one wrapped. Bakt Hor Nekht did come out of the inner coffin but wasn't unwrapped. She had a lucky escape."
Gill adds: "Now we no longer have to unwrap mummies to find out about them. As medical science has progressed we have been able to advance our studies and are able to look at mummies with CT scans. Science helps confirm ideas that we have about the ancient civilisations and helps dispel rumours and misconceptions. Scientific research is at the forefront of helping us reconstruct an idea of what life would have been like."
Gill, along with staff at Newcastle General Hospital, examined Bakt Hor Nekht last August. The scan produced more than 800 images, which are being used to help Gill and her colleagues answer detailed questions about the mummy including how old she was when she died, what sort of life she had and how she died.
As she had a full set of teeth, it is likely that Bakt Hor Nekht was in her 20s or 30s when she died. She was around 5ft tall and her teeth were painted. A series of amulets were positioned across the body and false eyes were placed over the eyelids, thought to provide the dead with vision in the afterlife.
A particularly interesting discovery for Gill was that Bakt Hor Nekht's oesophagus had been removed. Gill explains: "For the ancient Egyptians this would have been controversial, because the dead needed to be able to speak their names in the afterlife. To have all your voice box removed would mean that you couldn't do that."
Gill talks about Science in Egyptology at Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend on March 10 at 11am. It is free but booking is required. Call (0191) 236 9347.
Irt Irw and Bakt Hor Nekht are on display in the Land of the Pharaohs exhibition at Segedunum Roman Fort until September 2008.