Mummies' buried secrets brought to light

By Sarah Knapton in London

The Mummy of Tamut, a temple singer around 900 BC at the British Museum in London. Photo / AP
The Mummy of Tamut, a temple singer around 900 BC at the British Museum in London. Photo / AP

For a stylish Ancient Egyptian lady the thought of appearing in public without her wig may have proved horrifying.

But the intimate details about the life and death of Tamut, a singer in a temple in Luxor, including her shorn locks, will be displayed for the first time at the British Museum.

Archaeologists have used the latest technology to scan Tamut's mummified body and discovered a wealth of information, including that she suffered from furred arteries and may have died from a heart attack or a stroke.

On her exquisitely painted grave wrappings, Tamut, who lived around 900 BC, is shown as a young woman with dark, flowing hair.

But archeologists found she was probably around 40 years old, with a cropped urchin-like hair cut and was suffering from the effects of a poor diet.

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The museum's director Neil MacGregor said technology was becoming so advanced that within five years it would be possible to find out what her singing voice sounded like.

Dr John Taylor, the Egyptian archaeology curator, added: "This lady once stood singing and chanting for the god.

"She is astonishingly well preserved down to her short cut hair. She probably wore a wig as a high status individual."

He added that researchers had been able to work out that the amulets lying on the front of her body contained engraved figures of a protective eye.

Researchers also made a more gruesome discovery when a scan of an ancient mummy found a spatula had been left lodged in its skull after being used to scoop out its brains.

The body of the man from Thebes is believed to have been mummified around 600 BC.

Tamut and the man were among eight mummies examined with advanced CT scanners that produce high resolution data that can be turned into 3D images using software originally designed to make cars. The image of the man's mummified body clearly shows the spatula in his head as well as a series of dental abscesses, which would have caused him extremely painful toothache.

The Mummy of Tamut at the British Museum in London. Photo / AP

Dr Taylor added: "Even embalming didn't always go to plan. In this case the embalmers' tool broke off and stuck inside the skull."

Mummies first entered the British Museum collection in 1756 but none has been unwrapped for the past 200 years which meant in some cases their sex was unknown.

Dr Daniel Antoine, the curator of physical anthropology said: "What we are now able to do is take individual slices through the body and build 3D models of the mummies and look at them with incredible clarity and detail.

"One of the things we have been able to do is to try to get a new age estimate. With Tamut she was at least in her 30s, 40s or possibly older." The scans, carried out in a dual-energy scanner at London's Royal Brompton Hospital, also found that Tamut's organs had been removed, preserved and replaced in the body cavity alongside figures of gods made from beeswax.

The British Museum's Ancient Lives, New Discoveries exhibition opens on May 22 and runs until November 30.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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