Death of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I still a mystery

    Archaeologists and medical researchers have united to finally “unwrap” a mummy pharaoh — without lifting a single gauze.

    Researchers have eagerly awaited the opportunity to see the 3,000-year-old corpse of Amenhotep I, first discovered during the late 19th century.

    Clinical-grade computed tomography (CT) technology revealed the pharaoh’s face and a chest full of treasure, including 30 amulets and “a unique golden girdle with gold beads,” study co-author, Sahar Saleem, said in a statement. The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

    “By digitally unwrapping of the mummy and ‘peeling off’ its virtual layer — the facemask, the bandages, and the mummy itself — we could study this well-preserved pharaoh in unprecedented detail,” Saleem, a radiology professor at Cairo University’s school of medicine, added.

    Amenhotep I ruled between about 1525 B.C. to 1504 B.C. during the 18th dynasty. He had grown to five-and-a-half feet tall by the time he died — of as yet unknown causes — at age 35.

    The wooden sarcophagus of Amenhotep I, ruler during the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom of Egypt.
    De Agostini via Getty Images
    Sarcophagus of Amenhotep I
    Amenhotep I was transferred this year from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Old Cairo.
    S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

    His masked visage had been a central icon of Egypt’s “Royal Golden Mummy Parade” held in March this year, to commemorate the relocation of several royal mummies from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Al-Fustat, of Old Cairo.

    “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,” Saleem said.

    French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero and his team discovered Amenhotep I in 1881 with several other mummies, at Deir el Bahari on the west bank of Thebes (Luxor) in southern Egypt. Hieroglyphics at the tomb indicated that they’d been moved from their original burial site during the 21st dynasty following a spate of grave robberies.

    CT scan of King Amenhotep I
    This is the skull of King Amenhotep I created using computed tomography (CT) scanning.
    CT scan of Amenhotep I
    Amenhotep I, who died 3,000 years ago, had notably healthy teeth, according to researchers.
    S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

    Mystery remains concerning the death of Amenhotep. CT scans revealed no “wounds or disfigurement due to disease to justify the cause of death,” said Saleem, who found “numerous mutilations post mortem, presumably by grave robbers after his first burial.”

    It was also noted that Amenhotep died with a healthy set of teeth, and his heart and brain left intact while the rest of his entrails were removed, as is customary for ancient Egyptian embalming methods. Researchers also found him circumcised, as was tradition.

    CT scan of King Amenhotep I
    CT scans also helped researchers confirm that Amenhotep I had indeed been circumcised.
    S. Saleem and Z. Hawass
    abdomen and pelvis
    The above image shows damage to Amenhotep’s pelvis and abdomen sustained post mortem during a grave robbery that occurred a few hundred years after his burial.
    S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

    He “seems to have physically resembled his father [Ahmose I],” according to Saleem. “He had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair, and mildly protruding upper teeth.”

    Amenhotep’s father Ahmose I ruled during a peak period in Egypt’s power, after he expelled the invading Hyksos, then launched his expansion into Sudan and Libya — meanwhile splurging on a campaign for several new national monuments.

    CT scans of foot of Amenhotep I
    Image shows the disarticulated bones of Amenhotep’s right foot.
    S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

    Ahmose I and his wife Ahmose-Nefertari were worshipped as gods in their death, and the burial of their son Amenhotep I reflected that lineage.

    Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities and co-author of the study, told Live Science that the bedazzled girdle may hold “a magical meaning,” while the amulets “each had a function to help the deceased king in the afterlife.”

    CT scan of Amenhotep's head
    CT image of the head and neck of the mummy of Amenhotep I shows an intact head while the preserved, desiccated brain resting at the back of the skull.
    S. Saleem and Z. Hawass

    The robberies had done enough damage to the Amenhotep’s body that it had to be re-mummified during the 11th century. “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 jewelry and amulets in place,” said Saleem.

    Since 2005, Hawass and Saleem have together studied more than 40 royal mummies dating back to the new Kingdom of Egypt, between 1069 and 1570 BCE as part of the Egyptian Antiquity Ministry Project.

    They’ve said they look forward to applying their CT scanning methods to future archaeological projects.

    “We show that CT imaging can be profitably used in anthropological and archeological studies on mummies, including those from other civilizations, for example, Peru,” they concluded.

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