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Afterlife: Man in a Coffin

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 10 Nov 2015

A practice of forensic examination.

Head of Coffin: E19467

Head of Coffin: E19467
Photographer: Megan van Frank © Australian Museum

Afterlife is a blog series containing stories related to burial and mourning practices in different cultures.

His life ended early, especially by our standards. Mortally wounded in a battle at the age of 30 (give or take a few years) he became one of many bodies to be prepared for their uncertain passage into the future. He was embalmed and placed at a necropolis near the Ta-opet – Karnak temple on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes (modern Luxor).

While the evidence of proper embalming demonstrates the mummy’s authenticity, there are various clues to indicate whether it was a man or a woman. For anatomists and pathologists establishing the sex of an individual from the skeletal remains is a basic and usually routine procedure. Bone size, skull, pelvic bone, body proportions are the areas to examine.

Consistency of sex indication in all these areas makes for a pretty reliable result. The skull of our mummy is masculine with square-like chin, slanting backward forehead, well pronounced brow ridges and prominent muscle attachments. Robust bones of this 170cm tall individual reveal an athletic figure. Curiously, the pelvic bone is completely missing and this is a part of the mystery to which we will return later.

In addition, the right side of the body received traumatic blows with a sharp object, possibly sword, which were responsible for his death. These injuries include fracture of a cheek bone, upper jaw and missing (knocked off) molar. Also there is substantial injury to the long bone of the right upper arm and damaged rib fragments. These injuries are consistent with and indicative of fighting in a battle. The left side of the body was protected by a shield while the right side with the hand holding a weapon was exposed to potential blows which, in our case, proved fatal.

Our reconstructed picture indicates a strong, fairly tall man who trained as a soldier and who found his destiny and demise in battle. Whatever a conflict he found himself in, his body was taken for proper burial, including embalming and laying to rest in a major necropolis (cemetery) of ancient Egypt.

Prepared for his journey to afterlife our soldier may, with some luck, make it to the Field of Rushes, the final destination. There, in serene surroundings, he would tend his plot of land assisted by his shabtis, enjoying change of seasons and eternal succession of ploughing and harvesting. But capricious destiny spoiled his desired scenario.

Prepared by Charlotte Kowalski and Stan Florek

Reference:

Meiya Sutisno. Unveiling “Muharib” the Unknown Ancien Egyptian Warrior. Unpublished Report: The Forensic Face and Body Mapping Unit: University of Technology Sydney. 2014.