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Posts Tagged ‘head injuries’

By Joyce M Filer

Admired by the public and museum warders alike, one of the most visited mummies in the British Museum is that of Artemidorus – a young man who lived and died in Egypt during the First century AD.  Living, as he did, under the Roman rule of Egypt, it is not surprising that the portrait of Artemidorus, inserted within the mummy’s linen wrappings, shows a distinctly Roman ‘feel’ (see fig.1).  The young man, about 21 years of age at death, wears a white toga and a wreath of gilded laurel leaves.  His name, however, is Greek reminding us that the Greeks ruled Egypt prior to the Roman take over.

fig. 1 mummy of Artemidorus, detail. © J. Filer

I was always curious about finding out more about this mummy and, through working as the Curator for Human and Animal Remains in the British Museum, I had the opportunity to study this fascinating example of ancient Egyptian embalming.  How did I do this?  Well, we are not allowed to unwrap mummies, or destroy mummies in any way, so I took him to be CT scanned at a local London hospital (see fig. 2).

fig. 2 Joyce Filer preparing mummy to be CT scanned. © J. Filer

The scans showed me that there was a complete body within the package and that it was a man.  Interestingly, he had died fairly young – at about 21 years of age.  How had he died?  Well, it is rare that we find out the cause of death for a person from antiquity but Artemidorus had a secret to tell me.  He had sustained massive blows to the back of his head. When I examined the scans I saw there were no signs of healing and so this damage had happened close to his death.  Was the ‘proverbial’ assault with a blunt instrument to blame? Was it murder?  Maybe.  However, I feel it may just as easily mean that the ancient Egyptian embalmers were less than careful when preparing the body – possibly they smashed him down onto the embalming table causing the back of the skull to crack!

If you want to find out more about this mummy and other fascinating examples look out for my new book “Beneath the Bandages” (Rutherford Press, forthcoming) which is all about the various mummies (human and animal) I have examined.

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