Mummy facing up to more scrutiny

Dave Wright, the Otago Museum's collections, assets and research director, examines an Egyptian...
Dave Wright, the Otago Museum's collections, assets and research director, examines an Egyptian mummy, some of whose secrets will be revealed later this month. The mummy is in the foreground, with its ornate coffin lid sitting beside it. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
However the Otago Museum's bandage-swathed mummy may have looked 2300 years ago, it certainly wasn't like film star Elizabeth Taylor.

But Taylor's memorable portrayal of Cleopatra in the movie of the same name has left its mark, Dave Wright, the museum's collections, assets and research director, said yesterday - so much so that many people think any female Egyptian mummy would look like her.

The museum will reveal more of its mummy's secrets at its "Egypt Unwrapped" day on January 28.

A non-intrusive CT scan of the mummy at Dunedin Hospital in 2000, which was used to create a three- dimensional computer model, showed the mummified woman was not exactly a raven-haired beauty when she died.

She had only six teeth and was likely to have been racked with pain from severe gum disease, including abscesses.

She was aged about 35 - at a time when many people did not live much beyond 40 - and is believed to have been middle-class.

Carbon-dating of linen from the mummy's wrappings and other analysis shows she lived during the Ptolemaic period (323BC to 30BC).

The mummy was bought in Egypt by Dunedin businessman and philanthropist Bendix Hallenstein and given to the museum in 1893.

On the Egypt theme day, museum visitors will see what University of Otago forensic specialists and others have done to reconstruct a facial likeness using only the skull of an unidentified person.

Late last year, they used the 3D computer model of the mummy's skull to cast an exact copy in resin.

This will be displayed, along with two plaster heads cast from it.

They will be covered in clay, with a computer program used to calculate facial soft-tissue depths on the face and head.

One head will be painted with skin-like tones to give an impression - believed to be about 95% accurate - of the Egyptian woman's appearance.

This Saturday, the museum will also launch a contest encouraging the public to draw their predicted likeness of her.

Mr Wright said the project was applying science to the mysteries of the past.

"There's a hint of seeking the unknown."

 

 

 

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