Monash University

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A forensic study of fourteen Graeco/Roman child mummies

posted on 2017-02-15, 04:33 authored by Davey, M Janet
Modern medical and scientific technology was used to study a random group of fourteen Graeco/Roman child mummies for evidence of cause of death, disease, injuries and mummification practices. The mummies originated from an era where the Greeks and later the Romans ruled ancient Egypt and influenced the cultural, religious and mummification practices in the Nile Valley and at the oases. Computerised Tomogrpahy (CT) scanning linked to a Vitrea 2 computer graphics workstation produced a variety of virtual images of the mummies for a comprehensive study of the mummified bodies. These investigative techniques are routinely used in a number of forensic institutions. An Environmental Scanning Microscopy (ESEM) examination was carried out to determine the impact of post mortem biogenic processes on the body. An extensive search of the literature relating to all aspects of mummification, burial practices, modern mummy studies and diseases identified in ancient Egypt was completed. Dental charts were consulted to determine the age at death of each child. A standard of mummification of the bodies was identified and that ancient embalmers chose a variety of methods to facilitate the preservation of bodies. Post mortem injuries were identified and in all mummies flexion of the cervical spine was evident. Artefacts and inclusions were identified in the majority of mummies. The age range of children at death was between approximately eighteen months and seven years based on dental examinations. These examinations also confirmed that tooth loss had occurred due to a variety of reasons including rough handling and in one case as the probable result of disease. Determination of sex was carried out by the identification of genitalia viewed in the CT scan images. Two were female, eight were male and four were of unknown sex. ESEM images showed the presence of fungal hyphae on mummified tissue but the extent of damage to the mummified tissue could not be measured. The study provided evidence of an acceptable level of mummification in the mummies and that different types of mummification practices were used during the Graeco/Roman Period. Most skeletal injuries were identified as post mortem and the flexion of each cervical spine suggested that an arrangement of the body was preferred during the period. The value of using CT scanning and associated programs to view parts of the body from a variety of angles was confirmed particularly in the determination of sex and in the identification of inclusions.


Principal supervisor

Olaf Heino Drummer

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Public Health and Preventive Medicine

Additional Institution or Organisation

Forensic Medicine

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences

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