Researchers used CT scans to virtually unwrap a pristine mummy

In 1881, archaeologists discovered the mummy of Amenhotep I at Deir el-Bahari, a village outside Egypt’s famous Valley of the Kings. For 140 years, scientists have been unwilling to unpack the king’s body for fear they will damage his ornate face mask and bandage. But thanks to computerized tomography (CT) technology, they no longer have to take that risk. Cairo University researchers recently digitally “unzipped” Amenhotep to learn more about his life and dynasty.

The scans showed he was about 35 years old when he died. “Amenhotep I appears to have resembled his father physically: he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair and slightly protruding upper teeth,” said Dr. Sahar Saleem, the study’s lead author, told PA Media. It is not clear why he died at such a young age. Investigators found no evidence of any external wounds or deformities that may have contributed to his death.

Sahar Saleem et al.

What they did find were several post-mortem injuries that were likely inflicted on the body by grave robbers. That damage was “lovingly repaired” some 400 years after Amenhotep’s death by 21st Dynasty mortuary priests. They used a resin-treated linen band to reattach the head and neck. Researchers also found some 30 amulets hidden among Amenhotep’s bandages. The fact that they were still there even after his reburial probably disproves the long-held theory that priests of later dynasties would reuse the ornaments in the funeral rites of their pharaohs.

The study provides insight into one of the most fascinating periods in Egyptian history. Amenhotep I reigned between 1525 and 1504 BCE, during the New Kingdom period in Egypt. He was among the first pharaohs of the 18th dynasty, a lineage that would later include Akhenaten, the controversial “heretic” pharaoh who introduced the kingdom to a monotheistic religion around the sun. He was also the father of Tutankhamun or King Tut.

The first time archaeologists used a CT scan to examine a mummy was in 1977. As the technology matured and became more accessible, researchers were able to study mummies in ways that weren’t possible before. For example, in 2017, Chicago’s Field Museum was able to delve into its collection, one of the most extensive in the US, using portable CT scanners.

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