Tag Archives: KNH Centre

Curator’s Diary 30/6/12: CT scanning Asru … and a crocodile mummy!

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Over the past few weeks we have been filming short clips to appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries, and in digital content to connect with them. This week we filmed Dr. Roberta Mazza of the University of Manchester talking about Egypt in Late Antiquity, in the beautiful surroundings of the John Rylands library. I am conscious, though, that I promised a follow-up post to news of another filming session, CT-scanning the mummies.

As part of a larger project, led by Profs Rosalie David and Judith Adams, to CT-scan all our mummies with the latest technology at the Manchester Children’s Hospital, one day last month we took one of the museum’s best loved mummies for a state-of-the-art examination.

Asru, already unwrapped, and her two finely decorated coffins were the first significant additions to the Manchester Egyptology collection. They were donated in 1825 by E. and W. Garrett to what was then the Manchester Natural History Society collection. Mentions of the Theban god ‘Amun’ make it probable that her burial was originally located on Luxor’s west bank. Stylistically, her coffins date to the 25th Dynasty (c. 750-664 BC)

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Asru has enjoyed a surprising afterlife. She was an early subject of the Manchester Mummy Project, and proved a perfect patient. Using a pioneering range of non-destructive scientific techniques, the Project showed that in life Asru had suffered from a number of diseases. Among her complaints would have been anaemia, coughing, stomach ache and diarrhoea, caused by a parasitic bladder infection – called schistosomiasisis (or bilharzia) and other worm infestations, probably Strongyloides. Despite these ailments – and, judging from her fine coffins and mummification techniques, because of her wealth – she had lived to be around 50 at death – elderly for an ancient Egyptian! When the Greater Manchester Police took Asru’s finger- and toeprints (another first, for a 2700 year old body), they showed none of the wear and tear that most ordinary Egyptians would have expected.  Her duties as a chantress cannot have been arduous.

Following in a proud Manchester tradition: Jenny, Lidija, Campbell, Steph, Sam, Steve, and John, with mummified crocodile.

By conducting CT-scans using the latest technology, we hope to find out even more about Asru – things which, in the 1970s and 80s when she was first examined, were not possible to establish.

X-ray of the crocodile’s head

While scanning Asru, we also took the opportunity to subject one of our crocodile mummies to further examination. Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton, colleagues from Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, were interested to know more about what appeared to be a (fatal?) blow to the head. Results of the CT scans have not yet become available, but promise to give us much more information on the lives of people – and animals – in ancient Egypt. Results will be featured in digital content in the new Ancient Worlds gallery, and further collaborative research is expected to take place soon.


Filed under Curator's Diary, Egyptian mummies, Research projects

Curator’s Diary 15/2/12: ‘Pharaohs’ in Leeds and the ‘Leeds Mummy’ in Manchester.

The first few weeks of 2012 have been increasingly busy, as we gather pace for the redisplay of the Ancient Worlds galleries. We continue to consult community groups on ideas for programming and interpretation within the galleries. In the last month, Archaeology curator Bryan Sitch and I have received very encouraging feedback to our plans during a visit from Forever Young (a group I met back in November) and the Museum’s highly-engaged Youth Board.


Shabti of Seti I in 'Pharaoh' exhibition

Shabti of Seti I in 'Pharaoh' exhibition

With planning for our renovated galleries in mind, it is especially exciting to see new displays and exhibitions. The opening of ’Pharaoh: King of Egypt’ exhibition in Leeds City Museum was one opportunity to see the work of others. This incredible group of objects from the British Museum – including many rarely seen gems – highlights the role of the pharaoh, as both god-king and man. While the British Museum collection has different strengths to our own, it was interesting to note points of comparison. The role of the pharaoh – especially at the beginning of Egyptian history and at royal cities during the mid-New Kingdom (c. 1479-1327 BC) – will feature as a theme in the new Egyptian World gallery.

While visiting Leeds, I had the chance to see the famous ‘Leeds Mummy’ – a rare surviving example of a mummy from the Late New Kingdom. Nesyamun – formerly known as Nastef-Amun – was a priest and temple administrator at Karnak under the last of the Ramesside kings, Ramesses XI (c. 1099-1069 BC). Nesyamun’s exceptionally well-preserved mummy was examined by the Manchester Mummy Project in the early 1990s.

The leader of that project, Professor Rosalie David was one of a number of speakers at a very interesting and well-attended study day hosted by the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology on ‘Mummies and Medicine’. Quite by chance, Professor David revisited the subject of the Leeds mummy – which I had seen only a couple of days before. She introduced a – now rather dated-looking! – 1990 TV documentary on the Manchester examination, the findings from which were included in a temporary display at the Manchester Museum.

The 'Leeds Mummy' on display in Manchester Museum, March 1992

The 'Leeds Mummy' on display in Manchester Museum, March 1992

Professor David brought research on the mummy up to date by highlighting the problem of cardiovascular disease in Ancient Egypt – at least among the elite. As someone in charge of fattening cattle as offerings for the gods, and as a priest and therefore someone privileged to receive those offerings as payment, Nesyamun’s health seems to have suffered as a result of all the rich food he ate. The KNH study day illustrated how traditional Egyptology and modern science can work together to understand collections in the Museum. I look forward to sharing more results from such interdisciplinary cooperation both here and in the new galleries.


Filed under Curator's Diary, Egyptian mummies