The British Museum
- Ancient Egypt
- The tomb-chapel of Nebamun
- Paintings from the Tomb-chapel of Nebamun
- A bottle and a toy: Objects from daily life
- Hunefer, Book of the Dead
- The Rosetta Stone
- History uncovered in conserving the Rosetta Stone
- Egyptian mummy portraits
- Ancient Egyptian coffin prepared for the Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum
- Ancient Egyptian coffin mask conserved for the Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum
- An ancient Egyptian scribal palette in the Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum
- Ancient Egyptian baboon deity conserved for the Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum
- Ancient Egyptian papyrus in the Book of the Dead Exhibition
- Ancient Egyptian coffin panel prepared for the Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum
- Gebelein Man: virtual autopsy, exploring a natural mummy from early Egypt
This man died more than five thousand years ago and was buried at the site of Gebelein, in Upper Egypt. The reconstruction of his grave illustrates the early Egyptian custom of placing the body in a contracted, foetal position, usually on the left side, with the head to the south, facing the west, the land of the dead where he would be reborn. Around him were all the things he might need for his afterlife, especially pottery to hold and serve food.
Before the pharaohs
In the Predynastic period (4400-3100 B.C.E.), the time before the pharaohs, the dead were buried in shallow graves cut into the desert sand. The graves were often lined with reed mats, making them like a bed, and the body was covered with linen or skins and more mats, like a blanket, before the grave was refilled and perhaps topped by a mound of dirt. Contact with the hot dry sand naturally preserved the bodies because the sand absorbed the water that constitutes approximately 75% by weight of the human body. Bacteria cannot breed without moisture and as a result, the bodies frequently did not decay, but simply dried out. The body of this man is remarkably well-preserved, even down to his finger-nails and hair, which has probably faded with time.
Chance discoveries of these sand-dried mummies (for example, when a grave was disturbed by animals or robbers), may have promoted the belief that physical preservation of the body was necessary for the afterlife. This may have led the later Egyptians to develop means of artificial mummification after the introduction of coffins and deeper graves separated the body from the natural drying effects of the sand.
The objects that surrounded Gebelein Man in his original burial are unknown. On display is a selection of typical grave-goods from other graves of the middle Predynastic period (about 3500 B.C.E.), the time we believe he died. Attempts to date the body using Carbon 14 (the radiocarbon method) have so far been unsuccessful.He has been in the British Museum collection for over 100 years, but it was not until 2012 that he was CT scanned for the first time. Detailed images created from the CT scans' high resolution X-rays are allowing us to look inside his body and learn about his life and his death in ways never before possible. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.
Want to join the conversation?
- I am not much of the religious type, but wouldn't it be against Egyptian religion to just throw a mummy in an MRI and have an autopsy on it?(4 votes)
- I doubt that they would have much to say about it. This guy was an ordinary person who simply got dried out. He was not royalty of any type such that they would be 'protective' of him in any way.(1 vote)
- They traditionally rip the mummies brain out with a stick and out there nostrils. They brune it because in ancient eygpt they belived that the heart functions the whole body and that the brain was useless.(4 votes)
- wouldn't the sand preserve the body from decaying?(2 votes)
- Yes, this is exactly what has happened! If the body had decayed, everything except perhaps the bones would have disappeared. In this case, his skin, brains and other innards have been preserved.(3 votes)
- Did they find out what the mummy's last meal consisted of ??(3 votes)
- Does the Egyptian government ever take issue with British Museum for "owning" and exhibiting their historical gems on foreign soil or are they supportive?(1 vote)
- But why soft tissue in the body? the brain not removed. Does that mean he was not preserved maybe just an ordinary man while he was young?(1 vote)
- He was 'Dried' In ordinary language, all the moisture left his body, and so he looks shriveled.(1 vote)
- Why aren't more efforts made to carbon date this mummy? After all, it was "discovered" by villagers who handed another handful of mummies to Petrie without the archaeologist himself ever seeing the original grave. The artifacts now on display by the mummy's side in the London museum were not found with it. In these very nebulous circumstances, a proper carbon dating of this mysterious mummy should be in order before we can claim that it is "predynastic".(1 vote)
- It says in the writing under the video that "Attempts to date the body using Carbon 14 (the radiocarbon method) have so far been unsuccessful.(1 vote)
- I wonder why he died at it seemed to be such a young age(1 vote)
- Wouldn't a natural mummy like that smell extremely rancid like Pope Pius XII?
Why would any ancient coroners not care?(1 vote)
- It is hard to believe, but the body was just completely dried out, due to the heat and dry air where it was buried.
The written text beneath this video's screen explains it in a great way:
"Contact with the hot dry sand naturally preserved the bodies because the sand absorbed the water that constitutes approximately 75% by weight of the human body. Bacteria cannot breed without moisture and as a result, the bodies frequently did not decay, but simply dried out."(1 vote)