A new CT scan of the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep I, who ruled from 1514 to 1493 BCE during the height of ancient Egyptian civilization, gives us an unusual look at his physical traits as well as the ornaments that bejewel his inner wrappings. Its findings are catalogued in a study published on December 28 by the journal Frontiers in Medicine.
We don’t know a whole lot about the Amenhotep I — the jury is still out, for instance, on whether Ahhotep II, long thought to have been his sister and wife, might actually have been his grandmother. What we do know is that he was the second ruler of the 18th Dynasty, inheriting the newly reunified Egypt that solidified under his father Ahmose’s reign, and that he contributed to the expansion of the “New Kingdom.” During his reign, he built several important temples, including Amun at Karnak, pictured below. He inspired a funerary cult after his death, and he was also an architectural trendsetter: he was the first pharaoh to separate his tomb from his mortuary temple, in an attempt to put tomb raiders off the trail.
Despite his careful forethought, Amenhotep I’s tomb was nevertheless raided in the centuries following his death by robbers on the hunt for amulets and jewelry. We don’t know where the original site of his tomb was. His mummy was found in 1881 at Deir el-Bahari Royal Cache in Luxor, a city in southern Egypt where a number of New Kingdom-era mummies were relocated by 21st Dynasty (1069 to 945 BCE) authorities who wanted to protect them from raids.
21st Dynasty priests not only safekept Amenhotep I’s mummy by stowing it away at a secondary location, but also rewrapped it twice and repaired damages that had been suffered by the mummy during thievery. CT scanning — which takes cross-sections of the body to piece together a 3D image — showed that the mummy’s head had initially been severed from his body and that bandages on his left arm, right hand, and right foot had come undone. Using resin, the priests reattached the detached head, limbs, and fingers, and repinned loose bandages. They also embedded two new amulets into the mummy, bringing the total number of amulets to 30.
“King Amenhotep I looked like his father King Ahmose I,” Sahar Saleem, lead author of the paper, writes to Hyperallergic. The scans show Amenhotep I standing at about 5’ 6’’ in height, with an ovular face, a narrow chin and nose, a left ear piercing, and a circumcised penis. They also settle a longstanding debate over Amenhotep I’s age at his time of death. X-ray age estimates had previously vacillated between 25 and 50, too chunky a margin of error to be helpful to historians. The scans indicate that he was around 35 when he died, confirming the historical conjecture that he had ruled for 21 years.
Amenhotep I was also mummified with his arms crossed before him. “Amenhotep I’s mummy was the first to start the vogue of crossed forearms in front of the chest,” Saleem points out.
Amenhotep I is revealed to be donning a funerary mask made of cartonnage, a material composed of layers of papyrus. The CT scans help researchers understand how the mask was made, with stone-inlaid eyes and a layer of wood plastered in front of the cartonnage. He is also decorated with a 34-bead golden girdle.
“Royal mummies of the New Kingdom were the most well-preserved ancient bodies ever found. Thus these mummies are considered as ‘Time Capsules.’ They can give us information about how the ancient Kings and Queens looked like, their health, ancient diseases, mummification technique, manufacturing techniques of their funerary objects (such as the funerary mask, amulets, jewelry, coffins),” Saleem writes.
Amenhotep I’s mummy is also notable because it is the only one dating from the New Kingdom that has not been unwrapped and hence irreversibly damaged in the process in modern times. Gaston Maspero, the director of antiquities for the Egyptian government during the late 19th century, chose specifically not to unwrap Amenhotep I’s mummy because it appeared to have been preserved pristinely and decorated beautifully. Thanks to his choice, we can now visualize the mummy without destroying it.
Amenhotep I’s mummy is currently housed at the Gallery of Royal Mummies in the Cairo Egyptian Museum.
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