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LSU’s FACES Lab Helps Uncover the History of LASM Mummy

For years, visitors of the Louisiana Art & Science Museum made their way to the Ancient Egypt Gallery to see the “Princess of Thebes,” the nickname given to the museum’s 2,300-year-old mummy. Until recently, little background information was known about the princess. But thanks to research completed by the LSU FACES Lab, some surprising discoveries have been uncovered, most notably that the princess was a man. 

“The best determination is that she is a he,” concluded Mary Manhein, director of the LSU FACES, or Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services, Lab, after studying the mummy’s bone structure.  

Manhein and the FACES Lab also determined that the museum’s mummy was approximately 25 to 30 years of age at the time of death, stood between 67 and 68 inches tall, and weighed approximately 124 to 132 pounds.  

The FACES Lab looked at the mummy’s skull and pelvis structure to determine its gender. The mummy’s age was determined by studying the collarbone area, since the clavicle is the last bone in the body to fuse around the age of 24 to 25. 

The lab also sent their findings to 20 forensic anthropologists nationwide, and they too confirmed these results. According to Manhein, the LASM mummy will now be used as part of a case study in New York medical schools’ classes for aspiring forensic anthropologists.  

Another unusual finding regarding the mummy is the inclusion of a full-length stretcher within the wrappings, suggesting that the condition of the corpse necessitated its use as a transportation device and was needed to stabilize the body during bandaging. X-ray images of the body showed considerable damage to the thorax and rib cage areas.            

“Something put tremendous pressure on his chest. He had seven or eight broken ribs,” Manhein said.  

These injuries were determined to have occurred after death but prior to the mummification process, as his bandages were not damaged or torn. The exact cause of death is currently uncertain, but additional research may be able to uncover the cause, as well as other mysteries.  

The LSU FACES Lab primarily specializes in facial reconstruction to assist law enforcement with missing persons and identifying bodies. N. Eileen Barrow, LSU FACES LAB imaging specialist, created a two-dimensional, digital facial rendering of the LASM mummy. Typically, the lab does three-dimensional renderings, but the mummy was still wrapped and to preserve that process, a plaster cast could not be made.            

The mummy, which was acquired by the museum in 1964, was found to have curly, reddish hair still preserved on his head. It is not currently known whether that color was natural or artificial, but since hair is not a widely perserved element in Egyptian mummies, its presence is noteworthy. Barrow’s facial rendering, including the curly hair, is now on display in the LASM’s updated Ancient Egypt Gallery.  

In addition to the LSU FACES Lab research, a CT scan was performed on the mummy at St. Elizabeth Hospital, under the directives of Jonathan Elias of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium. The CT scan confirmed the FACES Lab assessments and revealed additional groundbreaking information.  

“LASM’s mummy is extremely unique because he was not mummified in the typical sense. The body appears to have dried out naturally by hot, dry environmental conditions, making it unnecessary to remove the internal organs. The level of organ preservation is quite remarkable and suggests that the body was fully desiccated prior to its arrival at the embalming facility,” said Elias.  

Research was also conducted on the mummy’s cartonnage – the painted, papier mâché-like material covering the bandages. The style is consistent with the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 B.C.) in Thebes.  

According to LASM Curator Elizabeth Weinstein, the mummy was not part of royalty or considered extremely important because there was no gilding gold on the sarcophagus containing the body. The cartonnage, however, contained some important symbols and deities, such as the scarab beetle – representative of rebirth – and Nut – the goddess of heaven.  

This was the first major research conducted on the LASM mummy since 1984 and 1986, when x-rays were not of high enough quality to provide any answers regarding gender or age. With improved technologies and little of the mummy’s background revealed, LASM hopes to uncover more mysteries about the former “Princess of Thebes” in the near future.  

Manhein and the FACES Lab joined an international team of researchers who studied the mummy while the LASM Ancient Egypt Gallery was undergoing renovations. Other researchers included Peter Lacovara, curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, Atlanta; Salima Ichram, chair of the Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, and Egyptology Departments at the American University in Cairo, Egypt; and Elias.            

A grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, as well as funds from the William E. Montan Charitable Trust, the Junior League of Baton Rouge, and the Good Family Foundation financed the Ancient Egypt Gallery renovations, which include new artifacts, a fresh layout, and updated interpretive text. The gallery focuses on the Ptolemaic period, which dates from 323 BC to 30 BC, when Egypt enjoyed the respect of the ancient world under Greek rule. Changes to the introductory room reinforce the importance of the Egyptian’s unique religion. 

The gallery also includes an updated timeline and world map, as well as displays of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. The mummy, also from the Ptolemaic period, has been reoriented for better viewing. The final room in the gallery has been redesigned and devoted to the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife and their funeral practices.

Ernie Ballard | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2007

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