KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology

The Perth Mummy Project

The Perth Mummy - a previously unstudied human mummy.

Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council Scotland

Takherheb is Revealed

An update on the study of the Perth Mummy by Dr. Lidija McKnight

In June 2013, a wrapped Egyptian mummy from Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Scotland, was transported to The University of Manchester for investigation by members of the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology’s Bio Bank team. The mummy has been at the museum since 1936 when a local antiquarian society disbanded and sold off their collection to local institutions. The mummy was on display until the mid-1970s, but has since been in museum storage. Museum records suggest that the artefact was purchased in Cairo in the 1890s by a Mr. William Bailey. No research has ever been conducted on the mummy or the associated wooden coffin, making it an ideal candidate for scientific investigation.

The successful application to the FLS for a Career Development Award provided funding for the mummy’s transportation using specialist couriers, Constantines of Glasgow, and the construction of two customised wooden cases – one for the coffin lid and the other for the coffin base and mummy. The couriers arrived at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital on schedule and at 5pm the precious cargo was unloaded through the ambulance bay and whisked through to the radiology suite, mindful of the fact that wheeling what appeared to be two coffins covered in hospital sheets might be a little disconcerting for the patients!

Investigation of the coffin design and its hieroglyphs by Dr. Campbell Price and Anna Garnett from the Manchester Museum indicated that it was most likely made for a female of the 25th-26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt (approximately 760BC – 525BC). The female design traits include the hair styles and the serpents painted on either side of the lower half of the coffin. Stylistic investigation suggests that the coffin was probably made in the provincial town of Akhmim, a large town on the east bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt.

The vertical columns of hieroglyphs on the lower panel of the coffin lid appear to record the names of the mummy’s parents and may also contain details on geographic location and possibly a job title; however, layers of ingrained dirt prevent them from being read. Only specialist conservation of the coffin will be able to reveal this information. What can be read suggests that the name of the mummy is Ta-kr-hb (Takherheb), a female name. This name is known from other inscriptions (including another mummy, in an Italian museum) but its meaning is not currently known.

Takhereb undergoes a CT scan

The mummy and coffin were given a full radiographic evaluation using digital radiography and CT scanning to determine the nature of the contents and the methods used in the construction of the coffin. The examinations revealed a human skeleton which had suffered extensive damage to the thorax and pelvis which appeared to have taken place at some point after the desiccation of the body. The damage was so extensive that determining the sex anatomically and establishing whether the body was eviscerated following death proved impossible. The right hand still lay on the left shoulder showing that the arms would have been flexed across the chest at the time of mummification.

The skull remains intact and the CT scan showed evidence to suggest that the brain had been removed trans-nasally via the ethmoid sinuses. The eyes were left in position and the globes packed with linen. Examination of the dentition revealed that many of the teeth in the maxilla had been lost ante-mortem caused by alveolar recession which had caused significant remodelling and subsequent healing of the bone. The surviving teeth in the mandible showed heavy wear most likely caused by a fibrous diet contaminated by sand particles. It is likely that the embalming process caused some teeth to become displaced and made the lower jaw protrude as it appeared in the radiographs; however, the extent to which this can be confirmed is difficult as the mandibular condyle appeared obscured by embalming materials.

The lower limbs were in reasonable condition, with the exception of the feet which have become detached from the tibiae and the left fibula is absent.

Images from digital radiography and CT scans

The most likely explanation for the present condition of the mummy is that an attempt was made, most likely in antiquity, to remove the mummy from the coffin. The use of resinous substances during the mummification procedure often causes bundles to become fixed to their funerary containers and, if brute force had been utilised to lift the head and the feet simultaneously, the desiccated body would have fractured along the plane of least resistance resulting in destruction of this severity. The tight linen wrappings applied around the body appear to have retained sufficient malleability to hold the body parts together and the external appearance of the bundle gives the illusion of a complete and well-preserved body.

The wrappings were of brown linen with a single shroud covering the upper torso with a vertical band laid head to feet and horizontal bands at the face, neck, chest, waist and feet. A twisted piece of linen was tied around the neck which could represent the remains of a strap used to lift the body into the coffin. Damaged areas of the bundle show that a resinous substance was applied partway through the wrapping process before a final layer of linen was applied. This may have been used for its antibacterial and preservation properties, or as an adhesive to glue the layers of linen together. No amulets or funerary adornments were noted during the radiographic study.

After a night spent in the storeroom of the Hospital, Takherheb made her return journey to Perth the following morning. Her 540 mile road trip resulted in 7000 radiographic images, hundreds of photographs and 18 samples. The story continues to unfold and the on-going study includes analysis of the samples to identify mummification agents used in the embalming of the body and the pigments used in the decoration of the coffin. Additional funding is being procured to clean and conserve the coffin and mummy bundle. The Museum hope that the recent scientific study of the mummy by the Manchester team will enable her to be displayed once again, and that the scan data can be used to create a facial reconstruction, enabling the public to see what she may have looked like in life.

The investigation incited great media interest, with the transportation and radiographic imaging filmed for BBC Scotland and numerous articles appearing in the press. Live interviews were recorded by both myself and Mark Hall, History officer at Perth Museum, for BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’. Links to these clips are available on the Project's Media page. The preliminary results were presented at the World Mummy Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August 2013.

I would like to thank the FLS for the opportunity to apply for a Career Development Award to fund the project; Mark Hall and his colleagues at Perth Museum for their continued and proactive support of the research; the KNH Centre team of Andrew Chamberlain, Campbell Price, Robert Loynes, Stephanie Atherton, Roger Forshaw and Anna Garnett; Morwenna Grills and Aeron Haworth from the University’s Media Relations team; and Prof. Judith Adams, Consultant Radiologist, and her radiographic team at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital without whom this research would not have been possible.