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Egyptian mummy ‘unwrapped’ for first time – revealing its 3,500-year-old secrets

Archaeologists and medical researchers have united to finally “unwrap” a 3,500-year-old pharaoh — without lifting a single gauze.

Researchers have eagerly awaited the opportunity to see the corpse of Amenhotep I, first discovered in 1881.

Computed tomography (CT) technology, which creates a cross-section of a body using X-rays, revealed the pharaoh’s face and a chest full of treasure, including 30 amulets and “a unique golden girdle with gold beads,” study co-author Sahar Saleem said in a statement. The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

“By digitally unwrapping the mummy and ‘peeling off’ [the layers around the body] — the face mask, the bandages and the mummy itself — we could study this well-preserved pharaoh in unprecedented detail,” Saleem, a radiology professor at Cairo University’s school of medicine, added.

Amenhotep I ruled between about 1525 B.C. to 1504 B.C. during the 18th dynasty. He had grown to 5-and-a-half-feet tall by the time he ᴅɪᴇᴅ — of as yet unknown causes — at age 35.

His masked visage had been a central icon of Egypt’s Royal Golden Mummy Parade held in March this year to commemorate the relocation of several mummies from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo, to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in the ancient city of Fustat, now Old Cairo.

French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero and his team discovered Amenhotep I with several other mummies at Deir el Bahari on the west bank of Thebes (now Luxor) in southern Egypt.

Hieroglyphics at the tomb indicated that they’d been moved from their unknown original burial site during the 21st dynasty (circa 1000 BC) following a spate of grave robberies.

While other modern discoveries were opened by archaeologists, researchers were worried that the elements would destroy Amenhotep.

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ, by High Priests of Amun,” Saleem said.

Mystery remains concerning the ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ of Amenhotep. CT scans revealed no “wounds or disfigurement due to disease to justify the cause of ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ,” said Saleem, who found “numerous mutilations post mortem, presumably by grave robbers after his first burial.”

Most of Amenhotep’s entrails were removed, though his heart remained customarily untouched since the organ was thought to be the seat of one’s soul.

His brain was also undisturbed — perhaps one of the few remaining royals during Late Period ancient Egypt to have kept it, as the process of removing the brain, bit-by-bit through the nose, was popularized around 3,500 years ago. He also ᴅɪᴇᴅ with a healthy set of teeth, and was evidently circumcised, as was tradition.

He “seems to have physically resembled his father,” Ahmose I, according to Saleem. “He had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair and mildly protruding upper teeth.”

Amenhotep’s father Ahmose I ruled during a peak period in Egypt’s power, after he expelled the invading Hyksos, then launched his expansion into Sudan and Libya — meanwhile splurging on a campaign for several new national monuments.

Ahmose I and his wife, Ahmose-Nefertari, were worshipped as gods in their ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ, and the burial of their son, Amenhotep, I reflected that lineage.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former minister of antiquities and a co-author of the study, told Live Science that the bedazzled girdle may hold “a magical meaning,” while each of the 30 amulets “had a function to help the deceased king in the afterlife.”

The robberies had done enough damage to the Amenhotep’s body that it had to be re-mummified during the 11th century BC.

“We show that at least for Amenhotep I, the priests of the 21st dynasty lovingly repaired the injuries inflicted by the tomb robbers, restored his mummy to its former glory and preserved the magnificent jewelry and amulets in place,” said Saleem.

Since 2005, Hawass and Saleem have together studied more than 40 royal mummies dating back to the New Kingdom of Egypt, between 1570 BC and 1069 BC as part of the Egyptian Antiquity Ministry Project.

They’ve said they look forward to applying their CT scanning methods to future archaeological projects.

“We show that CT imaging can be profitably used in anthropological and archaeological studies on mummies, including those from other civilizations, for example, Peru,” they concluded.