Scientists Open 2,500-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Coffin

J.P. Brown, the conservator at Chicago’s Field Museum, and three other scientists had the experience of a lifetime on Friday, December 5, as they opened an Egyptian mummy coffin holding the 2,500-year-old remains of a 14-year-old Egyptian boy, as reported by San Francisco Gate.

It was an intense morning, and Brown could not relax until the tedious work of removing the lid from the fragile wood coffin was complete. The scientists wore surgical gloves as they used clamps and a cradle they created from pieces of metal to lift the lid, and then gently and slowly walk it to a nearby table in their “humidity-controlled” lab at the museum.

Removing Lid

Breathing a sigh of relief, Brown exclaims, “Sweet! Oh Yeah, God, I was nervous!”

Crescent News reports that Chicago’s Field Museum has had the mummy since the 1920s, when it changed hands from the Chicago Historical Society. The mummy is that of Minirdis, the son of a stolist priest, and one of a collection of 30 human mummies in their collection. It will be part of an exhibition the museum is curating and touring called, “Mummies: Images of the Afterlife,” which starts in September.

The scientists are aware of how delicate the mummy coffins are, and Brown is certain they take extreme measures to ensure minimal to no damage is done in handling them.

“There’s always a risk of damage. So we like to handle these things as little as possible.”

In an effort to determine exactly what they were dealing with, CT scans were made. The scientists then used the x-ray images to assess what was inside the coffin prior to removing the lid.

ct scan

By doing to, according to San Francisco Gate, Brown and the other scientists were able to determine that the boy’s feet were detached and “partially unwrapped with his toes sticking out.” The mummy’s shroud and mask were also torn and twisted to the side, all of which will be repaired with delicacy before the exhibition is underway.

mummy foot

Friday’s work was done inside a lab by a large picture window so that schoolchildren could actually watch history in the making. With great interest, Brown explained certain interesting facts surrounding the mummy, such as the significance of markings or the specific colors on the wrappings.

Brown also says that if Minirdis had lived to be an adult, he would have followed in his father’s footsteps as a priest. It is unknown why to boy died at age 14.

“The fascinating thing about any mummy is that it’s survived as long as it has. They’re actually amazingly fragile.”

Project Conservator, Molly Gleeson, who works with mummies at Penn Museum in Philadelphia, agrees with Brown, as reported by San Fransicso Gate.

“These are unique individuals, unique objects. There’s nothing else like them. If damage were to happen, we can’t put things back together exactly the way they were before.”

Watch for the “Mummies: Images of the Afterlife” exhibition to come to your city.

[Photo Credit: SFGate]