Mysterious Egyptian Mummy Has Head Full of Dirt

A CT scan reveals what looks like dark sediment inside a 3,200-year-old mummy's head.

A mysterious Egyptian mummy dating back about 3,200 years has dirt in the skull, a new investigation reveals.

The presence of what looks like dark sediment inside the mummy's head is bizarre, said the researchers, who used computed tomography (CT) to peer inside the mummy. Not only was there some sort of sediment in the head, the researchers found, but the individual's brain remains inside, too.

"It's some form of material added into the brain case while the brain was left inside," Jonathan Elias, the director of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, said in a statement. "We have not seen that particular pattern before." [Video: See Scans of the Mummy Skull]

Photos: Mummies' Faces, Hairdos, Revealed in 3D

Elias made his comments in a video recorded as the mummy was being scanned at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, where researchers have previously used CT to delve into the remains of both human and crocodile mummies.

The latest mummy to undergo this high-tech scrutiny is named Hatason, though researchers said they believe this is a nickname assigned after death, not the individual's real name. According to Stanford, the mummy was transported from Egypt to San Francisco in the late 1800s and was displayed at the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894. In 1895, the mummy joined the collection of San Francisco's de Young Museum.

The mummified body currently resides at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco. Whoever sold the mummy in the 1800s probably named it Hatason to bring to mind the royal name of queen Hatshepsut, but this mummified individual was no royal. Her coffin depicts a woman in the standard dress of an everyday citizen, though it's not clear whether the coffin the mummy rests in now was originally the individual's; mummy buyers of the 1800s reused coffins haphazardly.

Photos: Signs of Incest in Famous Mummies

The scans are still being analyzed, but the initial look inside the mummy, on Nov. 24, revealed some odd details. The mummy had no amulets in its wrappings, only a metal tack probably used by a museum curator to keep the mummy's wrappings together. The bones are jumbled inside the wrappings, which are still shaped into a mold of the ancient woman's body. The pelvis, which is what researchers typically use to determine gender, had collapsed, but Elias said the mummy's skull looked female.

The fact that the brain was not removed from the skull suggests the individual lived during the New Kingdom, between the 16th and 11th centuries B.C., Elias said. In mummies created after that period, he said, the brain was always removed.

Someone was probably experimenting with mummification techniques at the time, though. Adding sediment to a skull with the brain inside is a method not seen before, Elias said. It's the kind of detail only a high-tech CT analysis could uncover without destroying the mummy, he said.

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"Mummies of this period are not very plentiful, so each time we have an incremental change in the technology, we learn much more and are able to say much more than in the past," he said.

Original article on Live Science.

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A CT scan showed what looked like dark sediment inside the mummy's brain case.

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.