Researchers in Egypt use CT scanning technology to digitally unwrap the second pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Amenhotep I’s mummy without disturbing its beautifully decorated exterior.

Egyptian researchers have deployed a non-invasive scanning technique to unravel what's inside the ancient mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I. 

Sahar N. Saleem from the Department of Radiology, Kasr Al Ainy Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, and Zahi Hawass of Antiquities of Egypt, Cairo, Egypt, led the scanning mission that ensured Pharaoh Amenhotep I's mummy remained untouched. 

Pharaoh Amenhotep I ruled between 1525 and 1504 BCE as the second emperor of the 18th dynasty.

The researchers used CT scanning (computerised tomography) to look inside the mummy. The method allows for a detailed, three-dimensional image of what is inside while preserving the integrity of the mummy.

Amenhotep I’s mummy is unique in that “all the royal mummies found in the 19th and 20th centuries have long since been opened for study,” a news release explains. The exception, Amonhotep I’s mummy is “perfectly wrapped, beautifully decorated with flower garlands, and with face and neck covered by an exquisite lifelike facemask inset with colourful stones,” which made Egyptologists hesitate to unwrap the delicate, beautiful mummy.

Yet Amenhotep I’s mummy was actually opened after its mummification and burial – by 21st dynasty restorers, in 11th century BCE. Priests restored and reburied royal mummies from more ancient dynasties, “to repair the damage done by grave robbers,” as described by hieroglyphics.

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his death, by High Priests of Amun,” said Dr Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University and the radiologist of the Egyptian Mummy Project, the study’s first author.

“By digitally unwrapping the mummy and ‘peeling off’ its virtual layers – the facemask, the bandages, and the mummy itself – we could study this well-preserved pharaoh in unprecedented detail,” said Saleem.

The pharaoh's skull, including his teeth, is in good condition.
The pharaoh's skull, including his teeth, is in good condition. (S. Saleem and Z. Hawass)

“We show that Amenhotep I was approximately 35 years old when he died. He was approximately 169 cm tall, circumcised, and had good teeth. Within his wrappings, he wore 30 amulets and a unique golden girdle with gold beads,” she continued.

“Amenhotep I seems to have physically resembled his father: he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair, and mildly protruding upper teeth,” Saleem noted.

Saleem and Hawass describe in Frontiers of Medicine that the mummy suffered from “multiple postmortem injuries likely inflicted by tomb robbers” that have been likely treated by 21st dynasty embalmers.

The interventions by later priests include: “Fixing the detached head and neck to the body with a resin-treated linen band; covering a defect in the anterior abdominal wall with a band and placing two amulets beneath; placement of the detached left upper limb beside the body and wrapping it to the body.”

The researchers also note that “The transversely oriented right forearm is individually wrapped, likely representing the original 18th Dynasty mummification and considered the first known New Kingdom mummy with crossed arms at the chest. The head mask is made of cartonnage and has inlaid stone eyes.”

Saleem also said: “We couldn’t find any wounds or disfigurement due to disease to justify the cause of death, except numerous mutilations post mortem, presumably by grave robbers after his first burial. His entrails had been removed by the first mummifiers, but not his brain or heart.”

The scientists had theorised that the 21st dynasty priests had opened the mummy “to reuse royal burial equipment for later pharaohs” but proved themselves wrong.

They write in Frontiers of Medicine that his mummy had been rewrapped twice by later priests, noting that  “the CT images show the extent of damage of the mummy of Amenhotep I that involved neck fractures and decapitation, a large defect in the anterior abdominal wall, and disarticulation of the extremities (left upper limb, right hand, and right foot).”

“We show that at least for Amenhotep I, the priests of the 21st dynasty lovingly repaired the injuries inflicted by the tomb robbers, restored his mummy to its former glory, and preserved the magnificent jewellery and amulets in place,” said Saleem.

Amenhotep I’s mummy was discovered, among other reburied royal mummies, in 1881 at Deir el Bahari in southern Egypt. His father, Ahmose I, was the first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, “who had expelled the invading Hyksos and reunited Egypt.” Amenhotep’s rule is considered to be a golden age, and when he died, he and his mother Ahmose-Nefertari were “worshipped as gods.”

Hawass and Saleem studied more than 40 royal mummies of the New Kingdom since 2005, twenty two of which, including Amenhotep I’s, were transferred to a new museum in Cairo in April 2021. Amenhotep’s face mask was used as an icon for the ‘Royal Mummy Parade’ that took place in March 2021 in Cairo.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies