History

Ancient Egyptian Mummy Wearing Jewels Found

A 4000-year-old, bejeweled mummy is discovered below a temple in Luxor. Continue reading →

Spanish archaeologists digging in Egypt have unearthed a female mummy still wearing her jewels.

The mummy was discovered in the necropolis below the temple of Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1490-1436 B.C.), on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor (southern Egypt). The find dates to the Middle Kingdom (2137-1781 B.C.).

For nearly four millennia, the "Lady of the Jewels," as the mummy was nicknamed, eluded tomb raiders, her sarcophagus trapped under a collapsed roof.

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The archaeologists were cleaning and restoring several tombs in the necropolis that had been already looted in antiquity when they realized that in one of the chambers of tomb XIV, part of the roof had already collapsed before robbers entered it.

"A large boulder, which had fallen down before the tomb was looted, had crushed and buried a previously untouched coffin with all its content," Egyptologists Myriam Seco, director of the Thutmosis III Temple Project, said in a statement.

As Seco's team removed the stone, they found a wooden sarcophagus and an utterly destroyed female mummy.

"She still wore the marvelous jewelry that was attached during the process of mummification," Seco said.

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Belonging to a higher social class, the woman, possibly in her 30s, was buried with a necklace in which semiprecious stones and gold plates alternate. A pendant in the form of a finely-wrought golden shell weighting over 20 grams was attached.

"Furthermore, she carried two golden bangles on her arms, each formed by two pieces of twisted wire, connected to each other and silver bracelets on both ankles," Seco said.

While the golden shell and the two bangles were found in a perfect state of preservation, the silver ankle bracelets were very worn.

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"These spectacular findings confirm that an elite necropolis is located under the mortuary temple of Thutmosis III. Wealthy and important individuals of the Middle Kingdom and their families were buried there," Seco said.

Archaeological work at the temple began in 2008. The seventh season started last October and will run until mid-January.

Photo: (Top) The mummy's jewels are collected together. The damaged female mummy (above) is seen wearing golden bracelets. Credit: Manuel González Bustos/Thutmosis III Temple Project

A young, short man with a slight resemblance to Michael Jackson, a woman with an elaborate hairstyle and an older woman who could slip, unnoticed, into today's society -- all died some 2,000 years ago but now facial reconstructions of the ancient Egyptians have brought them back to life.

The reconstructions were unveiled today at McGill University's Redpath Museum.

"People are amazed by mummies, but never more so, I've found, when they can see the face," said anthropologist Andrew Wade of Western University.

The high tech process, involving CT scanning and multiple scientific disciplines, recreates what the three individuals looked like as they were laid to rest nearly 2,000 years ago.

Here, a mummy is set to go into a CT scanner.

Mummies of a young male, a young female and an older woman were virtually unwrapped using CT scanning. Models of their bone structure were then created.

Barbara Lawson, a curator at the Redpath Museum who also worked on the project, added that all three mummies were scanned at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital as part of Western University's IMPACT Radiological Mummy Database Project.

Forensic artist Victoria Lywood undertook the actual reconstruction work, which was based on the 3-D high-resolution images along with ultrasonic images and anthropological research.

A step in the process involved sketching what the individuals would have looked like.

Some have detected a facial resemblance, at least from the front profile, with the late pop star Michael Jackson. Jackson was, in fact, very interested in Egyptian history, which might have influenced some of his personal style.

The Theban male died between the ages of 20-30. His mummy was purchased in Thebes, his likely place of death.

The young man was "relatively short in stature," according to Wade.

Lywood is one of the world's leading experts on such recreations.

"I reconstruct modern-day skulls, archaeological remains and fragmentary skulls," she told Discovery News. "The oldest I have constructed was from 6,000 years ago found in Israel. While there were people of all sizes throughout the ages, my experience is that skull size was much smaller than modern populations."

This Ptolemaic female was a "late adolescent girl or young woman of average height and elite status," Wade said. "Her age at death is estimated at between 18 and 24 years."

Her mummy was found "in a tomb pit in the solid rock near Hawara el-Makta in Fayum (Lower Egypt) and acquired in Egypt towards the end of the 19th century and donated to the Redpath Museum in 1895," Lawson said.

Clearly ancient Egyptians prized fashionable coifs, given the complexity of the young woman's hairstyle.

Her hair must have been fixed before mummification, perhaps in hopes of sending her off to the next life looking her best.

The hairdo of a young ancient Egyptian female was reconstructed on a modern woman.

The reconstructed young woman is shown here without her wig. Clearly her hair was a big part of her look.

The oldest individual of the three was this woman -- likely a tall, upper middle-class adult between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.

If she were alive today, this woman (at least based on her physical appearance) would probably fit right in with modern society.

As Wade said, "Humans have been physically pretty much the same for the last 2,000 years...That's not to say that evolution has stopped working on us, but the time frame of 2,000 years is just a drop in the bucket for noticeable physical changes and we've reduced the need for physical changes by adapting culturally."

The three ancient Egyptian people died at somewhat different times and never knew each other. But, as reconstructions, the early Egyptians will spend even more time together, because they will star in a new display in the Redpath Museum's World Cultures gallery starting in February.