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Curator’s Diary: CT-scanning Demetria with the BBC

Demetria 3ajpgOn Thursday the 31st of January, a team from the Museum returned to the Manchester Children’s Hospital to CT-scan two more of our 24 human mummies. This time we were accompanied by a BBC film crew, who recorded proceedings for a segment on The One Show.

The mummy of Demetria had been chosen – shamelessly, I admit – as she was the most outwardly attractive for a TV audience. She had been X-Rayed by the Manchester Museum Mummy Project, led by Rosalie David, in the 1970s but there was lots more information that could come from a modern CT-scanner.


Some of the team (Sam, Ray, and John) lift Demetria onto the scanner. With all the resin and gilding, she’s very heavy.

We know the name of Demetria because it appears – in Greek, along with the name of her husband Icaous – on the headband of her elaborate gilded covering. Demetria’s mummy (Acc. no. 11630) was discovered in 1910 during excavations by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt at the site of Hawara. Like many other mummies for the Demetria 2asite, Demetria died under Roman rule – in the First Century AD. Her burial arrangements are a typical fusion of Graeco-Roman styles – in her hair, jewellery and attire – and traditional Egyptian imagery. This expresses a mixed expectation for the afterlife: as a fashionable, contemporary woman, but also someone who depends on Egyptian ideas about resurrection and eternity. The outer surface of Demetria’s wrappings is still brightly painted with scenes of mummification and the protective Egyptian deities. She stands on her bound enemies, depicted in paint on her cartonnage footcase. Such an approach utilised as many motifs for survival after death as possible.

Initial results of the CT-scan revealed a fairly well-preserved body, with a distorted spine and crushed rib-cage that imply post-mortem injuries. Gilded studs appear in the wrappings, but there was no sign of other jewellery – though at this period little would be expected. The results – 10s of 1000s of individual images – will need considerable study to disclose further information.


The distinct glow of gold. Not posed at all.

Having the BBC film the procedure revealed much more about modern expectations of ancient Egypt than it did about Demetria. The opportunity to showcase the reinvestigation of the mummies – which is fairly standard, and has been practiced around the world for more than a decade – was a superb one. If nothing else, up to five million people now know about the superb Egyptian holdings, and a little of the history, of the Manchester Museum. Yet, despite the polish of the short film and the intelligence, professionalism and obviously deep understanding of John Sergeant, the framing of our 5 minutes of fame re-enforced most of the old tropes about Ancient Egypt: an exotic, potentially scary place, morbidly obsessed with mummies, material value, magic, the weird – a side-show. The attention span of the average viewer of such primetime, magazine-style coverage is not long – nor should it be expected to be. Hopefully those interested by this glitzy snapshot will visit the Museum and learn something more of Ancient Worlds than just mummies and bling.


Filed under Curator's Diary, Egyptian mummies