On December 8th, 2015 we learned about

Scanning the skull of a slightly mishandled mummy

Sometimes the value of an artifact isn’t just what it is, but the story of how it got there. Researchers at Stanford University are currently trying to unpack the history of a 3,200-year-old mummy named “Hatason,” and figuring out exactly how it came to California may greatly influence what it can tell us about ancient Egypt and the people who created it. Hatason’s eternal rest hasn’t exactly been peaceful, leaving it with a damaged skeleton and what’s likely a fake name, among other things, but this doesn’t mean it’s completely dissconnected from it’s Egyptian roots. In fact, Hatason may provide information about the development Egyptian mummification itself, assuming we can figure out exactly what happened when.

The mummy was brought to California in the late 1800s to be displayed at the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894. It was probably given the name Hatason at that point to benefit interest in queen Hatshepsut, although that’s really the only connection between the two. Hatason doesn’t appear to have been royalty, based on imagery on the coffin. According to those decorations, Hatason was a woman of no significant rank, although researchers acknowledge that there’s no way to confirm that the body was not swapped into a third-party’s casket at the same time she was given a new name. The market for Egyptian artifacts in the 1800s didn’t demand much authentication in such arrangements, but that doesn’t mean that Hatason’s story is completely lost.

Imaging Hatason’s interior

In order to disturb the remains as little as possible, the researchers at Stanford have been doing detailed CT scans of the mummy. CT scans, also known as CAT scans, create cross-sectional images of a body that can be assembled into detailed, three-dimensional models. While the outer wraps still hold the form of the original body, scanning revealed that skeleton inside has not fared as well. The pelvis, which is normally relied upon to identify the sex of the corpse, was broken, and so researchers had to instead look at the skull’s proportions to corrobarate that Hatason was a woman. The skull also held two significant surprises— Hatason’s brain and a pile of dirt.

Prototype for preservation?

While dirt and brains may not seem like the most exotic things to find inside a dead body, they’re definitely unusual in this context. Bodies found in the New Kingdom, between the 16th and 11th century BC, routinely removed tissues from bodies for preservation, including brains which were drained through the nose. The presence of a brain and dirt may indicate that Hatason was a prototype for the more famous preservation procedures. Mummies from this time period are rare, which may underscore that mummification was at that point a technological innovation, with Hatason representing an example of the transition to the more sophisticated methods that followed.

Source: Mysterious Egyptian Mummy Has Head Full of Dirt by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science

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