The Myth of Eternal Preservation: Patterns of Damage in Egyptian Mummies
By Ellen Salter-Pedersen
Master’s Thesis, Louisiana State University, 2004
Abstract: Mummification can preserve a body for several millennia, but it is a popular misconception that these bodies are in pristine condition. The activities of tomb robbers, archaeological excavation and transportation, and the embalming process itself may damage the body. This thesis examines published reports on Egyptian mummies from museums in the United States, Europe, and Egypt for the presence of osteological fractures, dislocations and other related damage. These reports include biographical information and the results of investigations made by one or more of the following techniques: unwrapping, autopsying, x-raying, and CT-scanning.
Data on 275 Egyptian mummies were collected and examined for patterns in the type and location of postmortem damage. These patterns were subsequently compared with the historic periods, geographical regions, social class and the presence or absence of coffins, cartonnage, amulets, and antemortem pathologies. The results do show relationships between the cause of the postmortem damage and the geographic locations, historic periods, and social class. Conversely, no relationship is observed between the postmortem damage and antemortem pathologies, amulets, and protective casings. These results offer insight into the mummification process and the activities of the tomb robbers through the postmortem damage the mummies incurred.