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Ancient Egyptian mummified head 'brought to life' in Melbourne

Posted by Naphtali Bowen on

The 2,000 year-old mummified head of an ancient Egyptian woman has been restored using modern day technology.

Led by the University of Melbourne, a team of experts has reconstructed the relic with the help of CT scanning, a 3D-printed skull, forensic science and art.

The mummified head of an ancient Egyptian woman is scanned

Dubbed Meritamun, experts believe the she was young when she died — between 18-25 years of age — but little else about her is known.

Dr Ryan Jefferies, curator at the university's Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, said the recreation came about when the head was checked to ensure its preservation.

He said it was in remarkably good condition and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine was able to scan the mummified remains.

"This allowed for a non-invasive technique where we were able to see through all of the layers of the specimen, including the remanent muscle and all of the skull," he said.

He said the reconstruction was a snapshot into the past.

"It's a powerful insight into someone's life who lived thousands of years ago," he said.

"The advances in technology are making it easier.

"Whereas traditionally there was a lot more speculation, now we can be a lot more scientifically accurate with the data sets that we're using and then it becomes easier to do the reconstruction."

From the scan, a 3D skull was made and forensic sculptor Jennifer Mann went to work.

Ms Mann, who has trained with forensic facial reconstruction experts in the United States, said the work did not differ from the usual criminal cases she has worked on.

"Apart from the fact the person lived thousands of years ago, the technique us exactly the same," she said.

"It's based on using average tissue depth from a specific population and using markers to put it on the skull to indicate how deep the tissue should be at various points on the face, and that's put together with the knowledge of anatomy, the muscles of the face.

"An approximation of the face is created in that way by applying clay using those two parameters."

Ms Mann said Meritamun's hair style was based on another mummy from 1500BC and her eye make-up likened to black kohl worn by Egyptians at the time.

"I was trying to achieve an impression of a young person... she would have been a young fresh face," Ms Mann said.

"I didn't put exaggerated Egyptian make-up which might be coloured and really dramatic lines drawn on.

"I tried to keep her realistic, but consistent with how we understand people made up their eyes at the time."

Mummy's place in Melbourne a mystery

Dr Jefferies said the mummified head has been in the university's collection for up to 100 years.

However, the exact reason it came to be there is unknown.

"We've tentatively been able to link it with a former professor here at the university, professor Frederic Wood Jones, and he was quite a famous comparative anatomist," Dr Jefferies said.

"Early in his days of research he did some field work in Egypt and was known to have collected some mummified remains."

Now that Meritamun's looks are known, Dr Jefferies said researchers would look to discover more about her life, such as where she lived and who she was.

He said researchers would look at why she died young and whether she may have been suffering from a disease.

"Certainly we know there's thinning of the skull which could indicate anaemia," Dr Jefferies said.

"We can also then take more tissue samples and could potentially do some DNA investigation.

"This is important in terms of if she was, for example, suffering from a malarial infection we might be able to pick up remnants of the malarial parasite DNA to confirm that possibility."

He said researchers would also look at carbon dating small samples of bone to work out more accurately when Meritamun lived.

Meritamun will be on show at the University of Melbourne Open Day on Sunday.

Sculptor Jennifer MannPHOTO: Sculptor Jennifer Mann works on reconstructing a 2,000 year-old mummified head. (University of Melbourne: Paul Burston)

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