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The human remains (Tony Waldron)

During the course of the work on this tomb a great many human remains were discovered, including a considerable amount of mummified material and a much greater amount of disarticulated bone. All the material was studied over a ten day period in December 1998 and the raw data are in the process of analysis in London. What follows is an interim report based on the analyses carried out to date.

The disarticulated bone

There are well in excess of 1,500 individual bones in the assemblage and it seems likely that this represents at least 40-50 individuals. The majority of the individuals are adults but there are a number of children of varying ages present also. The number of males and females seems about equal to judge from some of the measurements of the long bones. For example, the distribution of maximum femoral length in the assemblage shows a good bimodal distribution and there are approximately equal numbers within each sub-group.

Assigning an age to disarticulated adult material is almost impossible except where the pubic symphysis is well preserved, since the morphology of this bone is a good indicator of age, or where teeth are present, when an estimate of age can be made from the degree of wear on the teeth. With sub-adults it is possible to make an estimate of age from the state of fusion of the epiphyses on the long bones, or from the maximum length of the unfused long bone shafts; this particular analysis has yet to be carried out, but it should be possible to obtain some indication of the ages at death of at least some of the juveniles buried within the tomb in due course.

In general, the adult bones are robust and further analysis should permit some estimation of final achieved height of the adults to be made. There are a number of bones which, although certainly adult, are from an exceptionally small individual - or individuals. These include some long bones and two metacarpals. My preliminary conclusion is that these bones are from a single dwarf and I hope that further work will confirm this suggestion. Dwarfs are well-known from statuary and wall paintings from ancient Egypt and there is also skeletal evidence from other tombs so this is not a surprising or unusual discovery.

skull As part of the examination, note was taken of any pathological changes on the bones and two cases are of special interest. The first is a male skull with a number of holes in it (see picture at right). The holes are of varying size but all have the typical appearance of cancer which has spread from a primary site elsewhere in the body. Relatively few cancers spread from the soft tissues to bone and in a male the most likely source of origin is cancer of the lung. The background incidence of lung cancer is relatively low and it is only with the widespread habit of cigarette smoking that the disease has achieved such prominence in the modern world; a case in antiquity, while not unique, is nevertheless of considerable importance.

spine The second case is one of tuberculosis in a young child of perhaps 6 years of age. The disease has affected the spine to a great degree, entirely destroying the bodies of some of the lumbar vertebrae resulting in spinal collapse and a sharp angulation of the spine, sometimes referred to as Pott's disease. It was fortunate that most of the spine from this child was preserved and it can be seen that the disease has affected several of the other vertebrae (see picture at right). The bones were extremely thin and delicate and they have been conserved within the tomb by Julie Dawson, and I am most grateful to her for her help.

Some of the long bones from the child also came to light during the examination of the skeletal material and it could be seen that these bones too were much thinner than normal. This suggests that he or she had been ill for some considerable time before death and had most likely been confined to bed for several months, causing the skeleton to become osteoporotic. There is little doubt that tuberculosis was the cause of death in this child, perhaps from spread of the infection to the brain.

It has been suggested that man first contracted tuberculosis from cattle and that the bovine form of the disease gradually mutated into the human form which seems to have become more common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern immunological techniques allow the DNA of the bacterium to be extracted from bone and it is then possible to determine whether the DNA is from the bovine or the human bacterium. Given the great age of this specimen it would be of the greatest scientific interest to study it further and determine from which form of tuberculosis the child suffered. If it proved to be the human form, this would be by far the earliest known occurrence and would contribute significantly to our understanding of the natural history of this disease.

The mummified material

Many of the mummies which had been buried in the tomb had suffered considerable damage and much of the material was fragmentary, although there were several mummies in good condition; some were extremely well preserved. The analysis of the data suggests that there were probably at least 30 mummies present at one time or another, but this number is likely to be modified as the analysis proceeds.

Both male and female mummies are present in the tomb and, in addition, there is a beautifully preserved head and torso of an infant of only a few months of age. Unfortunately the head and torso have become separated and were found in different parts of the tomb but they have now been reunited. The face of the infant is so well preserved that at a casual glance, one might suppose the child to be asleep. The means of mummification is not clear; there is no wound on the abdomen to indicate that the viscera were removed and, because the skull has been broken, it is possible to see that the falx cerebri is intact which must mean that no entry was made into the skull to extract the brain. This is a matter which requires further study and reference needs to be made to other reports of mummification in children to try to determine what methods were used to preserve the bodies of very young children.

Wedjahor

The mummy of Wedjahor had been damaged after death and some of the limbs had become separated from the torso. They were all present in the tomb, however, and this allowed the mummy to be restored virtually in its entirety. It is a wonderful example of the skill of the Egyptian embalmers and the face is magnificent. The mummy has a large evisceration wound in the left flank. The wound is vertical, extending from the costal margin above to the level the anterior superior iliac spine below and is about 120 mm in length. There is no sign of packing or of suturing. Entry through the brain was through the left nostril. The arms were slightly bent at the elbow and the hands were together over the pelvis. There was no evidence of plugs in the nose, mouth, eyes or ears as was found in some of the other mummies in the tomb, and there was no packing in the chest or abdomen. The mummy was approximately 1.65 m in length. There were no signs of disease, but this is not surprising given that no special examinations could be undertaken. It is difficult to put an age to a mummy but it has the appearance of a man in his late 40s or early 50s; a more accurate age could be determined by the use of radiography but we had no facilities for this in the tomb.

Further work is continuing on the data obtained from the examination of the mummified remains. The positions of the arms and the hands will be studied as it has been suggested that these may confirm the period during which the mummification was carried out. We will also determine more accurately the number of individuals represented by the remains.

Further work

Since leaving Egypt further human material has been recovered from the tomb from shaft I, including a mummy which may be that of Senneferi and it is hoped that this material will be examined in another season.

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© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018