Four mummies in the Smithsonian Institution apparently were from the Egyptian elite thousands of years ago and probably enjoyed easy, comfortable but rather short lives, according to new X-ray studies.
The mummies, a woman, two men and a child, were put through a series of X-ray exams at George Washington University Hospital. Experts said evidence from their skeletons suggests they were healthy, well-fed and apparently not overworked during their lives along the Nile.The skeletons, lacking the strips of cloth expected in the classical image of mummies, were laid out in boxes and atop tables in the hospital's radiology department.
"These people were all of the middle to high status," said Dave Hunt of the Smithsonian. This is evident, he said, by the fact that all went through the elaborate and detailed mummification of the upper crust of Egyptian society.
The process caused their skin to turn a leathery brown, shrink and harden on their skeletons. The bones, for the most part, are well-preserved. The mummies grin at the world with perfectly aligned teeth in noseless, eyeless skulls.
One has arms crossed at the chest, while the others lie with arms at the sides.
Some of the specimens have breaks caused by handling since their removal from Egyptian tombs many years ago, Hunt said, but all of their bones were intact in life and give no indication of the injury or disease that killed them.
"There is no evidence that they were in bad health," Hunt said. "All are nutritionally sound."
Nor is there evidence that the three adults ever had to work very hard. There are none of the bulky bones, small fractures or wearing skeletal injuries expected from prolonged physical exertion.
The only female in the group has the bones of a woman who died in her late 20s. She is thought to have lived as early as 4,000 years ago.
Hunt said the mummy with perhaps the highest status in the group was laid out inside a wooden sarcophagus that is elaborately decorated with painted symbols. The preserved body was identified as a male who lived around the years 300 to 150 B.C. and died in his mid-40s. There was no sign of injury.
"He apparently had a full life," said Hunt. "The life expectancy then was 40 to 45."
The other adult male apparently died in his mid-30s and is thought to have lived about 3,000 years ago.
Hunt said the child died at age 21/2 to 3 and also lived about 3,000 years ago. "The child appears to have been in very good shape," he said.