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Facial reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy

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How did this mummy end up in Otago Museum?
Over 100 years ago, in 1894, the Otago Museum received an Egyptian mummy. We don’t know much about its provenance, except that Bendix Hallenstein, one of the Museum’s early benefactors, bought it for the Museum from the German Consul in Luxor, Egypt. He was told that it had come from within Thebes, the ancient city that Luxor was built around. 

Who was the mummy?
The hieroglyphics on the outside of the coffin tell us little about who this person was. From radiology images obtained by scanning her body in the year 2000, we know that she was an elderly woman. It is impossible to tell her age exactly, but we think she was about 50 years old and in poor health. She suffered from arthritis in her lower back joints, intervertebral disc degeneration that had twisted her spine to the left side, and she also suffered from hardening of the arteries. Finally, her teeth and gums were in a very bad state. Her body was wrapped before being placed in the coffin. She may have been ‘forced’ into the narrow space – there are post mortem fractures of her right femur and both ankle bones.

When was she alive?
We think she lived about 2400 years ago. We know that from radiocarbon dating of a fragment of the textile wrapping her body, which gave a date of 460 BC – 350 BC. That means she lived after Classic Greek times, and before it is thought that Jesus Christ lived. At that time a lot of the Spartan and Athenian populations lived in Egypt.


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How was the Forensic Facial Approximation done?
The final model of the face is the result of scientific, artistic and historical research. Dr Louisa Baillie, a researcher in Forensic Facial Approximation at the Anatomy Department, University of Otago, undertook the physical work. There were five main parts to the process.

  1. Skull shape
    Measurements and other information about the skull came from the digital images taken in 2000. There were three types: CT scans, X-rays and Shaded Surface Display (SSD). The CT scans showed 75 axial slices of the wrapped head.

    Andrew McNaughton (Anatomy Department, Confocal Microscopy) recommended using a new software app called Ilastik with the CT scans. This made it possible to separate bone pixels from soft tissue (skin and cartilage) pixels, better than any previous researcher has been able to do. This gave new, more detailed views of the surface of the skull and facial bones. The orbits around the eye could be clearly seen, as could the nasal bone shape, the upper and lower jaws, and the teeth.

    Other experts helped. Dr Sian Halcrow (bioarchaeologist) and John Dennison (physical anthropologist) each looked at the scans and provided further useful facts about the bones and soft tissue.

  2. Creation of 3D hard model of skull
    Digital image files of bone and skin were transferred to the software app Osirix. In Osirix, precise measurements of the skull were made. Soft tissue, especially in the nose area, was also examined for form. All this guided the sculpting of an accurate, hard 3D copy of the skull [image 1 of polyurethane skull]. It was carved using grinding burrs on a solid block of polyurethane. Tools and a work station were kindly provided by Steve Swindells, technical manager of the Dental Laboratory, Otago University Dental School. Carving progressed by referring to each axial slice, stacked from the top of the head down to the neck. Dimensions of bone were obtained from each slice and then directly transferred, using spreading calipers, to the polyurethane block.

  3.  Modelling of soft tissues (muscle, skin and cartilage) onto the skull
    Depth markers were applied to the face [image 2, skull with depth pegs] to guide soft tissue depth. The decision about which set of depth markers to use was based on the mummy’s size (small), age (elderly) and state of health (poor) at time of death. The diseased state of her teeth and gums, with abscesses and major tooth loss, suggested her facial soft tissue was thinner and less robust than average. Therefore a sample group aged 40 years plus, measured in Tokyo soon after WW2, when the population was thinner than average, was chosen to provide depth marker average values.

  4. Clay was used to sculpt the shape and volume of each facial muscle and fat (adipose tissue). [image 3 mouth muscles]. Size and shape of the nose, lips, eyes and ears were determined using the most current and internationally tested guidelines [image 4 determination of nose length and nose tip placement]. Grey clay was blobbed over the muscles to represent fat tissue and the salivary glands [image 5]. Finally, these were overlain with a 3 mm layer of skin made from rolled-out clay [image 6]. The face skin was then further sculpted to suggest an age of about 50 years [images 7, 8].

  5. This clay model was cast, and a silicon skin made. A light olive-brown skin colour was chosen to best represent her Caucasoid (including possible Greek) ancestry. A light tone was used because we think her skin would not have been exposed to the sun very much. This woman was probably indoors a lot, especially with her poor health. Also it was not the fashion to get a sun tan.

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The mummy’s teeth
This woman had very bad dental disease. She had lost all but five of her teeth and one tooth stump near the front of her mouth. Her jaw bone (mandible) has no teeth left at all, only some remaining roots near the front. At the rear, where the grinding molars were, the teeth have been gone for so long that the bone has remodelled to a shallow profile. It was common for older people to lose their grinding teeth, possibly first worn down because of the ‘sandy’ environment they lived in, which contributed silica to the corn that was ground up to make their staple bread diet. There is also evidence of large abscesses in the mummy’s maxillary (upper jaw) bone, at the base of lost teeth. This means that she could have eaten only specially prepared foods that required no chewing. She was elderly at death, so to have lived for so long, she must have had social support to care for her and give her appropriately prepared food. Her diet might have included softened bread, dairy products, and mashed fruits.

How did you decide on the nose shape?
Prediction is based on calculations from digital images of living subjects, tested for accuracy and published in the past decade. It was an advantage that this mummy had not had her brain removed through her nose. The nasal bones and crista conchalis (soft, moist cartilage within the nose) were therefore still intact and could be used for prediction. The length of the nose and how far out the nose tip projects from the face is worked out using the dimensions of the nasal aperture (nasal bone opening). Nasal tip location was also checked with the angle of the nasal aperture floor. Nose tip shape was calculated to be the mirror image of the front nasal spine profile. The maximum width of the nasal wings, the alare, was calculated to be a third of the maximum distance across the nasal aperture. The height of the nasal wings was estimated from the position of the crista conchalis.

How did you decide on the lips?
The line between the lips, the oral fissure, was calculated to be about two-thirds down the upper incisors. The incisors themselves had dropped out of their sockets since death. The width of the mouth was determined by examining the position of the upper canines. These had moved backwards with ageing, as teeth further back in the mouth had been lost. Therefore the mouth is relatively wide, as is the philtrum, the vertical groove in the middle area of the upper lip.  CT scans and X-rays show that the two front teeth had a gap between them, therefore widening the total distance. The height of the lips was based on the remaining upper teeth, the fact that the jaw had no teeth, and that this woman was relatively elderly with a protruding lower jawbone. Therefore the lip height is quite small, the vermillion border is poorly defined, and the lip-line itself has a ‘turned down’ appearance. The lips appear further turned down by the drooping of adipose tissue (jowls) each side of them.

How did you decide on the shape of the ears?
Ear height and angle varies between individuals and there is no one formula. However the external meatus (ear hole) bone region could be located, and that determined the placement of the fleshy ear hole, just behind it. The SSD images show that the ear was of normal size, and there was a suggestion of detached earlobes.

How was the iris colour of the eye chosen?
The 3D skull reconstruction shows many characteristics of a Caucasoid skull, including the relatively narrow and long nasal aperture. There was a large, settled Greek origin population in cities such as Thebes, and people from Syria and Libya had also come to Egypt. So it is likely that this Mummy had Caucasoid ancestry. Eye colour in these regions varies from deep brown to hazel to blue, and even green. A complex hazel brown colour was selected as it is a relatively neutral colour within this range. In keeping with her coloration, a dark brown wig completed her ‘look’. The wig was kindly gifted to the Otago Museum by Murray and Averill Barrington of Freedom Wigs Ltd, Dunedin. Hairstyling and braiding was donated by Cody and Nicole of Zaibatsu Hair Art, also located in Dunedin. 


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In what ways did you age the face?
Ageing of the facial soft tissue to suggest that this mummy was over 50 years old, included

  1. shaping of lips, as described above
  2. reduction of soft tissue at the eye rims, making the bony anatomy more prominent
  3. adding an excess of upper eyelid skin
  4. wrinkles at edges of eyes and mouth
  5. accentuation of the tear trough depression
  6. build-up of nasolabial fold, a thick line that borders the cheek and upper lip region each side of the nose and mouth
  7. loss of fullness of cheeks
  8. a broken jaw line with build-up of jowls and a thinning of the mid jaw
  9. build-up of muscle on the protruding chin
  10. relaxed under-chin profile with slight sagging of neck skin