Three Things a Mummy Won’t Tell You

Forensic science tells us quite a bit about mummies.

As the books editor at Reader’s Digest, I usually have my nose in a manuscript, but today I’d like to talk about….mummies. While visiting Chicago, I had the good fortune to see “Images of the Afterlife,” at The Field Museum, which takes our understanding of those ancient swaddled bodies out of the box.  Robert Martin, lead curator for the exhibit (in Chicago and on video online, through June 9, 2013), gave me a tour and explained that two mummies (male and female), still fully wrapped and in their coffins, had been given CT scans. Forensic scientists used the 3D imaging to estimate everything from the thickness of skin to the shape of eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Then artist Elisabeth Daynès sculpted remarkably lifelike heads. Walking the exhibit, you see step by step how images of bones were used to reveal the humanity of people who lived centuries ago. Admittedly, “Three Things a Mummy Won’t Tell You” is a trick, since a mummy won’t tell you anything. Forensic science, however, tells us quite a bit. So:

  • A mummy won’t tell you her age, but the lady’s bones reveal she was a (well-preserved!) 40-something. The boy was a teenager; his coffin was too big.
  • A mummy won’t divulge beauty secrets (and the lady would’ve worn a wig out in the world), but a CT scan reveals she had curls.
  • A mummy couldn’t begin to tell you what it’s like to see a face recreated thousands of years post-mortem, so I will. It’s incredibly moving.

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