Mummified remains of a five-year-old girl were uncovered back in 1911 by archaeologists in Hawara, Egypt. Since then, experts know very little about the unique mummy which was wrapped along with a portrait of the girl.
This is about to change, 106 years after the mummy was discovered, researchers are now using an innovative X-ray scanning technique that is helping to piece together her story. The X-ray scans have uncovered several mysteries about the mummy, including how her body was prepared 1,900 years ago, what items she was buried with, and the cause of her death.
The researchers, who are based in Northwestern University have been working to unravel some of the mysteries of the mummy girl, known as the Garrett mummy. The comprehensive investigation had the researchers using an X-ray scattering technique – marking the first time this method has been used on a human mummy.
The lead author of the study, Professor Stuart Stock said: 'This is a unique experiment, a 3D puzzle.
'We have some preliminary findings of the various materials, but it will take days before we tighten down the precise answers to our questions. 'We have confirmed that the shards in the brain cavity are likely solidified pitch, not a crystalline material.'
The rare Garret mummy is one of just 100 portrait mummies. Such mummies have a lifelike painting of the deceased incorporated into the mummy wrappings and placed directly over the person's face. The little girl’s body measured just over three feet (0.9 meters) long and it was swaddled in linen.
The exterior wrappings were arranged in an intricate geometric pattern of overlapping rhomboids, which served to frame the portrait. The experts claim that the portrait was painted using beeswax and pigment, and shows a face gazing outwards, with dark hair gathered at the back.
The painting also shows the girl wearing a crimson tunic and gold jewelry. Researchers hope that their analysis will shed light on where the Garrett mummy came from, and who she was. After conducting a comparison with other mummy portraits, researchers discovered that the Garret portrait was likely put together in a unique way, in a different workshop from the others.
One of the researchers working on the study, Professor Marc Walton said: 'Intact portrait mummies are exceedingly rare, and to have one here on campus was revelatory for the class and exhibition.' The Garrett mummy is believed to have come from a high-status family and was entombed in an underground chamber alongside four other mummies.
Professor Walton added: 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our undergraduate students - and for me - to work at understanding the whole object that is this girl mummy.
'Today's powerful analytical tools allow us to nondestructively do the archaeology scientists couldn't do 100 years ago’
Professor Stock said: 'From a medical research perspective, I am interested in what we can learn about her bone tissue.
'We also are investigating a scarab-shaped object, her teeth and what look like wires near the mummy's head and feet.'
Researchers had earlier on conducted a CT scan in August that gave them a 3D map of the structure of the mummy and allowed them to confirm the girl was five years old.
The scan also revealed that the girl's body had no obvious signs of trauma, suggesting that she was likely to have died from a disease. Dr Taco Terpstra, one of the researchers working on the study, said the three most likely culprits would have been malaria, tuberculosis, and smallpox.
Professor Walton intends to go back to an excavation that happened 100 years ago and reconstruct it using contemporary analysis techniques.