Egypt archaeology: Mummified child’s face 3D reconstructed for first time

A young child who died, most likely from pneumonia, at the turn of the century has had his face brought back to life. The boy, who lived during the Roman-era, has a “mummy portrait” placed on his coffin when he died.

As was tradition back then, when someone of prominence or wealth died, their corpse would be mummified and a portrait of their face placed on top.

Scientists in Germany wanted to see just how accurate there portraits were, so using CT scans of the little boy’s body, they made a 3D reconstruction of the child’s face – the first time it has been done for an infant.

The 30-inch mummy was discovered in in the 1880s in a cemetery close to the pyramid of Hawara, southwest of Cairo.

According to analysis, the child lived sometime between 50BC and 100AD.

Bone and tooth development from the scans revealed the child was between 3-4 years, and “residues of condensed lung tissue” showed the child likely died of pneumonia.

However, the facial reconstruction showed that the artist’s impression of the child was not entirely accurate.

According to the team, which was led by Andreas Nerlich, the director of the Institute of Pathology at the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen in Germany, the portrait showed the child having a much more “slender” nasal bridge and mouth opening.

The team attribute this to the artist trying to make the child look slightly older, as may have been custom at the time.

The study published in the journal PLOS One: “In Graeco-Roman times in the Lower-Egyptian Fayoum region, a painted portrait was traditionally placed over the face of a deceased individual.

“These mummy portraits show considerable inter-individual diversity. This suggests that those portraits were created separately for each individual.

“We identified the mummy as a 3–4 years old male infant that had been prepared according to the typical ancient Egyptian mummification rites.

“It most probably suffered from a right-sided pulmonary infection which may also be the cause of death.

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“The reconstructed face showed considerable similarities to the portrait, confirming the portrait’s specificity to this individual.

“However, there are some differences between portrait and face.

“The portrait seems to show a slightly older individual which may be due to artistic conventions of that period.

“In the present study, we provide the first scientific report of a facial reconstruction of an infantile Ancient Egyptian mummy from the Roman period that has been compared with its mummy portrait.”

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