Friday, November 23rd, 2012
A CT scan of a predynastic natural mummy excavated in 1896 from a shallow sand grave in the desert near Gebelein, Egypt has solved a cold case 5,500 years old: Gebelein Man was murdered, stabbed in the back, to be precise. After 112 continuous years on display in the Early Egypt Gallery of the British Museum, on September 1st Gebelein Man was taken to Bupa Cromwell Hospital for a CT scan. He is the first predynastic mummy to receive this treatment. Since he was mummified naturally, Gebelein Man’s organs were not removed and the dry heat of the Egyptian desert preserved much of his organ tissue as well as his skeleton and skin. The scan produced detailed high resolution images of the body which allowed experts to examine the interior of the mummy in great detail.
The new data showed that the mummy was a young man between 18 and 21 years of age when he died. There were a number of posthumous bone fractures, but his left shoulder blade and the rib right below it were cut. The bone fragments from that injury are still embedded in the muscle, and there’s a clear entry wound in the skin above his shoulder blade. There are no defensive wounds, which suggests that his murderer took Gebelein Man by surprise rather than during a battle. The murder weapon was a copper or flint blade at least five inches long and it was planted with such force that it shattered the rib, penetrating the left lung and severing the surrounding blood vessels. This was a very severe wound and there is no evidence of healing, so the British Museum is calling it: cause of death is murder by person or persons unknown.
Just in case that weren’t cool enough, they went full CSI. Thanks to advanced touchscreen and imaging technology by the Interactive Institute and Visualization Center C from Sweden, the 3D high resolution layered scans of the body have been uploaded to what is basically a huge iPad that works off of gestures. This virtual autopsy table allowed the British Museum experts and consultants to look inside the body in detail without damaging it or even being in the same room with it.
Lucky them, right? They get all the fun toys. But no! Restrain your grumpiness! Between November 16th and December 16th, the virtual autopsy table is in Room 64 of the museum out in the open, available for all visitors to play with. If you’re in London, get thee to the British Museum stat. Maybe you’ll find something the experts missed.
Gebelein Man is one of six discovered by Wallis Budge, a British Museum Keeper for Egyptology, from the same grave site about 25 miles south of Thebes. They were the first complete predynastic bodies discovered in Egypt, and Gebelein Man in particular was instantly popular when put on display in 1900 because of his excellent state of preservation and the visible tufts of red hair which earned him the nickname “Ginger.” He doesn’t go by that anymore, in keeping with the more respectful treatment accorded the archaeological dead these days.
You can see Gebelein Man go through his hospital CT scan and the virtual autopsy table at work in this video: