Monday, 4 January 2010

Mummification Museum Lectures - Forensic Egyptology – Janet Davey

Forensic Egyptology – Janet Davey

Although in English this week, this lecture was one of those that was difficult to take notes from as it was very visual but I will do my best.

Firstly a plug for my course Certificate in Continuing Education in Egyptology at Manchester University. This is a totally online course and Janet was one of the early tutors on the course now we have Joyce Tyldesley and the course director is Rosalie David. I am in my second year now and not only is the course great but being friends with the many people that have been involved as students or as tutors is a privilege.

Janet talked about her ongoing project, child mummies. She is based in a working forensic laboratory and they did in fact do a mock inquest on one of the mummies. She is using modern medical techniques such as forensic odontology, entomology and sculpture to investigate the past. She is focussing on 2 methods Microscopy and Radiology.

Mummy research is very much a worldwide group activity

The age of a child can be estimated by the eruption of the teeth HOWEVER the comparison is done against tables that have been drawn up using modern children so you must always be aware there may be inaccuracies.

On the scalp investigations under an electron microscope show a thread of linen and one of cotton. IF this is ancient cotton and not contamination then this indicates a much earlier use of cotton.

Also under the microscope whilst looking for infestations they found sodium chloride (natron) and quartz crystals. Spectrum analysis can be done to confirm the presences of these where as in the past it was educated guesses

They also finding fungal hyphae which is dangerous, it is possible this is ancient or modern but the important thing it is dangerous and work with mummies should always be done with masks and gloves. When a tomb is first opened it should be investigated in full forensic gear to protect the staff.

CT scanning is fantastic and has moved on significantly since 1995. The data from the CT scan goes into software like Vitrea which can then be manipulated to thoroughly view all angles. Her British museum mummies were done at Blackheath hospital and judging by the nicknames given to the mummies by the staff of great interest to them.

Skeletal details can be sent to other experts using other software in order to make 3d reconstructions of the faces. Again it should be born in mind that the data used to do this (depth of flesh) are based on modern tables of data and take no account of obesity etc.

Investigations done in the past by plain x-ray can be clarified and confirmed, e.g. inclusions are confirmed as sand and previously identified fractures are actually suture closures.

By measuring long bone and feet age can be ascertained. Also these techniques give more accurate information about
• Skeletal integrity
• Injuries
• Dental conditions
• Age
• Sex
• Mummification procedures

By viewing the mummies it shows that mummification procedures are many and varied during the Greco roman period. We often take what Herodotus said as the only methods but in these mummies the brain was not removed through the nose as the ethmoid cartilage is present, the chins of these mummies are all the chest and it could be the damage to the cervical vertebrae was caused by either removal of the brain or the positioning of the chins on chest.

The children were all blond and the ones Janet investigated were not eviscerated. The CT scan clearly shows the presence of internal organs. Missing teeth were found tucked under the top lip

Summary of the British Museum Mummies
• All mummies are in good condition
• Disruption to all cervical spine regions
• Evidence of server injury in EA 30363
• Fungal hyphae detected on the tissue of EA3032
• Children’s ages at death range from 4 to 7 years
• EA 30362 and 30364 have missing teeth tucked under top lip
• No evidence of Excerebration via nose
• No evidence of evisceration
• Inclusions in all cranial cavities

In conclusion modern medical and scientific studies have revolutionised mummy research

If you want to know more about Janets work google on Janet Davey Forensic Egyptology

Next week it is Ankhtifi

3 comments:

MSH said...

Dear Ms Akshar - very interesting report, and it reminded me of a question I've had for a while. Do you you know of any published material relating to DNA analysis of either of the two fetuses from Tutankamen's tomb? I would greatly appreciate any scholarly source reference(s) to which you can direct me. Thank you!

Jane Akshar said...

I believe that is still waiting to be published. It might be worth contacting Janet and askign as she does a lot of work at Cairo museum and knows people

MSH said...

Thanks for the quick reply. I do not have Janet's email address, and turned up nothing when I looked on the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine website (no search results). Could you forward my question to her? She could reply to my Gmail account: mshmichaelsheiser [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you!