Egyptian collection (2019)National Museum of Archaeology

Where it all started

Ancient Egypt will always hold an extraordinary place in history as a major birthplace of mankind’s collective culture.

The expression of the past lives of its people through the mummies drives our imagination. These provide powerful learning tools, triggering our interest in the lives of the Ancient Egyptians.

Resting in the Egyptian Rooms in Lisbon’s National Archeology Museum (NAM), in a dimly lit room, there are mummies with unique findings to the marvel of its visitors.

Pabasa arriving in 2010 and Álvaro Figueiredo's article (2003) (2010)National Museum of Archaeology

Two Distinct Paths

The Lisbon mummies investigations emerged from two separate paths.

A challenge proposed by a group of radiologists passionate about archeology and art, who volunteered to conduct the first-ever CT-scans of the NAM’s mummies (7 animals and three humans).

The other, unbeknownst to them, an earlier paper published by the bioarchaeologist Alvaro Figueiredo, stating the need for such a study and naming it Lisbon Mummy Project (LMP).

Combined, and with many other specialists, these origins would lead to a truly collective work, started in 2007.

Pabasa sarcophagus at CT (2010/2010)National Museum of Archaeology


Today’s non-invasive, non-destructive CT scans of ancient remains, especially those of humans, provide us with information far beyond sex and age, the possible cause of death or isolated ailments.

These scans teach us about the mummies’ relationship with their environment, their lives, their suffering, and diseases, while always honoring these thousand-year-old persons and upholding ethical requirements.

The ultimate aim is to improve our knowledge of the Ancient Egyptians from a cultural, anthropological, and medical standpoint, also helping us to better shape our future.

CT-3DR of Irtieru´s bust (-1070/-684)National Museum of Archaeology

This Story

This short story will first reveal findings from 4 of the animal mummies, as well as a hypothesis about their meanings.

Next, the main paleopathological discoveries in the three human mummies, some undescribed, that affected their past lives.

The story ends with two notes, one aiming to improve results, the other hoping to expand these kinds of endeavors.

Terracota animal mummy jar arriving (-399/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

Animal Mummies

Terracota vase of an animal mummy (-399/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

A sealed pottery jar - what could be inside?

CT-3DR of the terracota vase, post-processed opening view (-399/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

This pottery jar, probably Ptolemaic, was kept sealed and preserved ever since it was created more than 2.000 years ago.

A non-invasive CT acquired volumetric information about the object, which, combined with 3D post-processing technology, provided us with a glimpse into the jar’s contents.

CT-MPR (axial and sagittal) of the terracota vase (-399/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

Inside, lying in a disorganized manner, were a mixture of materials and debris, including bones, fragments of linen, pebbles from the Nile, and probably mud or sawdust.

Within the bones in the jar was a bird’s breast bone, and by comparative anatomy, we identified a breast and wing of a Threskiornis aethiopicus.

It is a sacred Ibis, representing the Egyptian god Thoth, creator of the Earth, heavens and stars, author of works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The fact that this votive container is often used to hold Ibis remains, furthers these findings.

Mummy of a Falcon (-699/-1)National Museum of Archaeology

A Bird Mummy

Could this be an eviscerated mummy?

CT-MPR (sagittal) of falcon wing feahers and head (-699/-1)National Museum of Archaeology

This mummy, from the Late Period, was thought to be a hawk, due to its external features. The CT study confirmed the presence of a remarkably well-preserved hawk (Falco peregrinus), with his elegant head outline and wing-feathers perfectly visible. This mummification process was of unusually high quality.

The hawk has been revered since ancient times and appears associated with the god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, and is also related to Pharaonic power. Often the pharaoh is portrayed protected by a hawk.

CT-3D and MPR (sagittal) of the falcon mummy (-699/-1)National Museum of Archaeology

His thoracoabdominal cavity was empty except for a posterior oval structure, next to what appears to be part of the diaphragm, structurally suggesting an aggregate of visceral remains, possibly the gizzard, liver, and heart.

This pattern, in some way, mirrors a typical human evisceration, where a special organ, the heart, is carefully kept in place.

Mummy of an Ibis (2007)National Museum of Archaeology

Ibis Mummy

Why is it missing a vertebra?

X-ray lateral view of the Ibis (2007/2007)National Museum of Archaeology

The second Ibis of the collection is anatomically complete, resting in its usual embalming position.

CT-MPR (coronal and sagittal) of the Ibis (2007/2007)National Museum of Archaeology

The CT analysis showed an apparently eviscerated bird that is missing a lumbar vertebra, its empty space preserved, and the corresponding ribs laterally in place.

This unusual finding could lead to some speculation, like possible access to evisceration.

Mummy of a juvenile Crocodile (2019)National Museum of Archaeology

Juvenile Crocodile Mummy

How to kill a crocodile.

3D CT of Crocodile Head (-1200/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

Sobek, Ancient Egypt's crocodile god, was nicknamed the god of anger and war. He is widely associated with death, burials, violence, and sexuality. The CT study of this unwrapped mummy provided curious findings in the neck and head bones: the clear disarticulation of the first two cervical vertebrae and also a fracture of the right jawbone.

TAC of Crocodile Head (-1200/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

In larger crocodile mummies, descriptions of deaths detail its cause by a sharp blow to the head, resulting in skull fracture. In the case of this young crocodile, the findings could suggest a different method. It is probable that death was the result of a cervical trauma created by stabbing with a stylet maneuvered to dislocate the vertebra. The fracture in the lower jaw might result from forceful containment of the head during the procedure.

Three Human Mummies (-1070/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

Human Mummies

Cartonnage of the mummy of Irtieru (-1070/-684)National Museum of Archaeology


Third Intermediate Period, 1.070-664 BC (2.800 years), man, 35 to 45 years, 1,71 m ± 4 cm

CT-3DR of Irtieru's body (-1070/-684)National Museum of Archaeology

Irtieru was a man, tall for his time. This high-resolution CT-3D image, obtained by non-invasively cutting out part of his cartonnage and linen wrappings, shows his impressive body, very well preserved by a thick coat of resin.

CT-MPR (sagittal) of Irtieru's spine (-1070/-684)National Museum of Archaeology

Irtieru, despite being relatively young, most likely suffered from back and hip pain.

His spine dorsolumbar CT scan showed an irregular pattern at several vertebral endplates, anterior wedging, and apparent loss of disc space.

These changes are suggestive of Scheuermann´s disease, and associated with back pain. His mummified body, long laying on his back, prevents a correct evaluation of a usual lifetime kyphotic posture.

CT-axial views of Irtieru's hips (-1070/-684)National Museum of Archaeology

His pelvic CT examination revealed congenital hip deformities, between the head and neck of both his femurs.

The focal bulges of the bone (yellow arrows) induce what is called femuroacetabular impingement (FAI) and cause chronic acetabular trauma in the cartilage, labrum, and bone. There are also small degenerative cysts in the femoral heads illustrating early arthritis.

Irtieru, therefore, also had trouble and pain in some of his hip movements.

CT-MPR (coronal and axial) of Irtieru's left lumbar region (-1070/-684)National Museum of Archaeology

Irtieru´s abdominal CT revealed another unique finding. In a posterior left lumbar location was a small calcified bean-shaped object, situated where the kidney should be (coronal view above, axial view below). This location, its shape, and organic structure were consistent with a putty kidney, a diseased, atrophic, and calcified organ at the end-stage of a renal tuberculous (1). It was this calcifying involution that allowed this almost trimillennar survival of the kidney. It also meant that Irtieru had previously a pulmonary form of tuberculosis, which he survived.

Sarcophagus of the mummy of Pabasa Sarcófago de Pabasa (-663/-323)National Museum of Archaeology


Late Period, 663-323 BC (2.500 years), man, 40 to 50 years, 1,62 m ± 4 cm

Meet Pabasa (-663/-323)National Museum of Archaeology

Meet the priest Pabasa, dedicated to the god Min and with the task of dressing his statue. He is seen here with resin-coated skin, and some of his scalp protected by linen bands, in his mummification procedures. We also see his artificial eyes.

CT-3DR of Pabasa´s skull, post-processed opening view (-663/-323)National Museum of Archaeology

Pabasa, in his mummification process, had a normal brain extraction followed by pouring inside his skull a large amount of heated resin to avoid the effects of intracranial decay. However, as his CT-3D head image shows, his skull was almost empty due to the overflow of the resin down through practically all of his spinal canal.

CT-MPR (sagittal) of the spine of Pabasa and (coronal oblique) of the sacrum (-663/-323)National Museum of Archaeology

As a result, Pabasa underwent the earliest known "myelography-type" examination, even if a post-mortem one. Myelography, first described in 1921, required the injection of contrast media in the spinal canal and was used for many years in radiology. Surprisingly, this very first "resin" myelography rendered a diagnosis: a left sacral nerve sheat cyst, or Tarlov cyst (yellow arrows), long gone but still recognizable by its smooth indentation in a resin filled nerve sheath.

CT-MPR triplanar oblique of Pabasa's left ankle (with reference lines) (-663/-323)National Museum of Archaeology

At least in his final years, Pabasa had a hard life due to the pain and swelling in his left ankle and was no doubt a limping priest.

His misfortune occurred sometime earlier when he had a significant ankle sprain. The severity of the injury damaged the talus cartilage and cortical bone. It caused a joint effusion that progressively penetrated the bone structure, causing the typical plurilocular and sclerotic pattern, shown here in 3 somewhat orthogonal planes (white lines).

Wrapped mummy of Sukhetsahor (-250/-200)National Museum of Archaeology


Early Ptolemaic Period, Akmin, 250-200 BC (2.200 years), man, 51 to 60 years, 1,62 m ± 4cm

*most likely name, uncertain

CT-3DR of Sukhetsahor's head (-250/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

We see here the facial traits of Sukhetsahor, an Ancient Egyptian that attained an unusual age by his lifetime standards.

As he lived longer, he also incurred in later age pathologies, and one of them changed his life, being his possible cause of death.

But it might also help him to attain a very dear wish of all ancient Egyptians: some form of rebirth, albeit in a very peculiar way.

CT-axial views of Sukhetsahor´s legs and thighs (-250/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

Sukhetsahor has a rare degree of muscular preservation, as can be seen in the axial CT images of his legs (front) and thighs (back). In between his thighs, his mummified penis.

CT-MPR of Sukhetsahor´s arm, pelvic girdle and leg muscles (-250/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

This state of preservation allowed for a more precise evaluation of his muscle bundles and led to the finding of an unusual pattern.

Multiple hypodense small oval spots, shown here at CT multiplanar oblique views (yellow arrows) of several of his muscles. This pattern is very suggestive of a parasitic disease known in Ancient Egypt, Trichinellosis, caused by the ingestion of contaminated pork meat and undercooked.

Sukhetsahor probably suffered from it and, if so, it would be the oldest noninvasively found muscular form of this disorder and the first in a mummy.

CT scan of Suckhetsahor´s pelvic bones (-250/-200)National Museum of Archaeology

Sukhetsahor CT examination also showed another rare finding, this time in his bones.

Several sclerotic, dense bone spots (white spots, yellow arrows) in his pelvic bones, lumbar vertebrae, and some less noticeable in is femurs, humerus, and ribs.

In a man of his age, these type of bone lesions, with this specific distribution pattern, are almost diagnostic of metastatic bone disease from prostatic carcinoma.

Sukhetsahor case is the second-oldest known case of this disease and the first of its kind in an Egyptian mummy (2).

Lisbon Mummy Project, team and work (2007/2019)National Museum of Archaeology

LMP findings were remarkable, having a simple working recipe: Team and Time.

Team portrays the close work of radiologists and a multidisciplinary group (Egyptologists, archeologists, historians, curators, conservators), crucial to the outcomes.

Time, plenty of it, was primarily applied to reading and reviewing the thousands of CT images.

This double formula is perhaps the main aim that this short story wants to share, naturally pointing out that further reviews of earlier mummies CT scans would, very probably, be also rewarding.

National Archaeology Museum, Lisbon / LMP patrons (2007/2007)National Museum of Archaeology

The overall costs of exposing and managing public and private cultural artifacts and collections are complex and well-known.

The endless financial crisis facing governments usually tends to hit harder at cultural and heritage grounds. Accordingly, there is a slow but comprehensive shift from government funding towards philanthropy.

This story, reflecting the enrichment of a public collection through external investigative work and support and follows these new times. It very much hopes also to encourage more patrons to follow this essential path.

Credits: Story

The LMP benefited from the work of many professionals. It was an inspiring collective path that will never be forgotten. We are especially indebted to the following:
Luis Raposo - MNA Director 1996-2012
Salima Ikram, Luis Manuel Araujo – Egyptologists
Carlos Prates, Sandra Sousa, Carlos Oliveira – radiologists
Fernando Cardoso, Rita Vidigal, and many others – radiographers
Mathias Tissot, Maria José Albuquerque – curators/conservators
João Seabra, Luisa Silva, Mário Soares – Siemens
Álvaro Figueiredo – bioarchaeologist (1966-2019†)

Credits: Story

Thanks to the following individuals and organizations, starting with the challenge to create this story to its conception, coordination, and technical assistance.
António Carvalho (MNA Director)
Maria Filomena Barata (MNA/ DGPC)
Luis Ramos Pinto (DGPC)
Inês Ferreira (IMI-art/Affidea)
Carlos Prates (IMI-art/Affidea)

Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, MNA / DGPC Lisboa
Direção Geral do Património Cultural, DGPC / Portugal
IMI-art / Affidea, Portugal

Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, MNA / Lisboa (mummies photos)
IMI-art / Affidea, Portugal (all radiographic images)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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