Anthropology Publications


A Synthetic Radiological Study of Brain Treatment in Ancient Egyptian Mummies

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Homo: Journal of Comparative Human Biology





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Variability in brain treatment, as a part of the Egyptian mummification process, is poorly appreciated in the literature, as variability in the details of excerebration have not been addressed comprehensively nor with respect to social, geographic, and temporal variation. The description of Egyptian mummification commonly used in the popular and academic literature is derived largely from accounts by Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus. However, this normative description does not acknowledge the existence of a wide range of mummification techniques practiced and so stifles the study of geographic and chronological changes in the practice and their causes. Therefore, the goal of this study is to use the classical description as a hypothesis for empirical testing, using published literature and primary radiographic data, with a specific focus on the practice of excerebration. Three primary treatments of the brain in mummification, and their variation over time and across social strata, are discussed in relation to their treatment in the literature, their radiological indicators, and their technical considerations. In order to examine Egyptian mummy excerebration, this study makes use of two samples: (1) a literature-based sample of 125 mummies, and (2) a sample of 6 mummies examined directly using computed tomography. In spite of an apparent high degree of variability, the literature continues to focus on modern and classical stereotypes rather than the rich variability in the Egyptian mummification tradition. Detailed, large-scale examination of this and other mummification traditions, and their meanings, is required to further our understanding of this important early complex society.

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