British Museum Invites Public to Virtually Investigate Violent Murder of Ancient Mummy

Mummies, with their contorted bodies, gaping sockets, and skin like rawhide, are fascinating to study for ancient burial traditions and history. Yet any trace of the story of that poor individual’s life has often evaporated as completely as his or her bodily fluids. Modern technology, however, has made postmortems possible centuries after death without necessitating the actual dissection of tissue. One of these, a hospital CAT scan, was recently performed on one of the most ancient mummies held by the British Museum.

Known as the Gebelein Man, the Egyptian buried in 3500 BCE was revealed to have been stabbed in the back. But visitors to the museum will be able to decide for themselves. The BBC reported that a “digital autopsy table” by the Interactive Institute and Visualization Center C from Sweden is available to visitors until December 16, with which they can make their own forensic inquiries through a touch screen showing views into the interior of the mummy. The well-preserved mummy still contains a brain and other internal organs, and is estimated to have been between 18 and 21-years-old when he met his “violent death,” as curator of physical anthropology Daniel Antoine put it.

“There’s a wound on the surface of his skin, which people have been able to see for the last 100 years, but it’s only through looking inside his body we’ve seen than his shoulder blade is damaged and the rib under the shoulder blade is also damaged,” Antoine told the BBC. However, with the new technology, visitors can put on their own ancient Egyptian detective’s hats (or wigs, per ancient Egyptian royal tradition) and “explore for themselves and, who knows, perhaps even make their own new discovery with the exhibit,” museum spokesman David Hughes speculated.

After he was discovered in 1896, crouched on his left side and covered in fabric and fiber in a shallow grave near Thebes, the heat of the dry sand preserving his remains, the Gebelein Man has been on view at the British Museum since 1900, earning the nickname “Ginger” due to his remains of red hair. He is one of the six Gebelein predynastic mummies that were found in sand graves by Wallis Budge, who served as the British Museum’s Keeper for Egyptology. As the Telegraph notes, “It is not known whether Ginger’s murderer was ever caught.”

Allison Meier

(Image: Gebelein Man “digital autopsy table,” via the Interactive Institute)