In June 1975 a very rare event took place at The University of Manchester – the unwrapping of an ancient Egyptian mummy. Before an audience of scientists and experts, the Manchester mummy project team unwrapped and dissected Manchester mummy number 1770. The team who unwrapped mummy 1770 consisted of specialists in Egyptology, pathology (human disease), dental studies, radiology, entomology (the study of insects) and microscopy. They were led by Rosalie David, the then curator of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum.
The Museum had started a project a few years earlier to study the mummies in its collection and many of the mummies had already been x-rayed at a nearby hospital. A lot had been learned about each mummy – their age when they died, whether they were male or female, the diseases or broken bones they had during life and how they were mummified, ready for the Afterlife.
The ‘Mummy Project’ team carrying out these studies decided that they would go on to autopsy one mummy to study it in great detail and to use what they found to develop a non-destructive way of studying mummies in the future.
Mummy 1770 from the Manchester Museum collection had been chosen for unwrapping and further study because she was very poorly preserved. Her bandages were loose and very fragile and the x-rays showed that her skeleton had become jumbled up underneath the bandages. She did not look like a ‘normal’ mummy beneath her bandages as she did not have very much mummified skin left – she was mostly a skeleton. This had happened to her a long time before she came to Manchester, probably whilst she was still in her tomb in Egypt.
Over several days, the layers of bandages were gently removed from the body exposing three pieces of cartonnage – a head mask, chest piece and slippers. The body was then studied in sections, with a lot of samples being taken for different types of scientific study. Insects were found between the different layers of bandages – the study of these told the mummy project team that mummy 1770 had been dead for quite a while before she was mummified. This helped to explain why she was poorly preserved.
Each bone of her skeleton and any remaining mummified tissue was carefully collected and recorded, even down to very tiny scraps. Looking at the skeleton confirmed that the mummy was a girl and that she was around 12-13 years old when she died. A mystery was also discovered during the autopsy – mummy 1770 had no lower legs when she was mummified. She had been given false feet made of reeds by the embalmers to make sure she could walk again in the Afterlife. It was impossible to tell what happened to her lower legs, although there have been lots of suggestions over the years!
Mummy 1770 continues to be studied today, using a range of scientific techniques. We don’t have all the answers about who she was, what life was like for her and how she died but each new study reveals something new about this mysterious mummy.