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Virtual autopsy reveals ancient mummy murder

posted 19 Nov 2012, 06:32 by Mpelembe   [ updated 19 Nov 2012, 06:35 ]

A virtual post-mortem conducted using a revolutionary virtual autopsy table, has revealed that Gebelein Man, one of the world's most famous mummies, was stabbed to death 5,500 years ago.

 LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (NOVEMBER 15, 2012) (ITN) - An autopsy carried out on Gebelein Man (PRON: Jebaleen), one of the world's most iconic ancient mummies, using a hi-tech digital autopsy table, has found he was murdered.

The mummy was buried in a crouching position in around 3500 BC in Egypt and was discovered by archaeologists in 1896. He's been on display in the British Museum inLondon since 1901.

Scientists carried out the virtual autopsy at the nearby Cromwell Hospital using a Virtual Autopsy Table developed by Swedish medical technology company, Sectra AB. The scan revealed he'd died of a forceful stab wound, according to Daniel Antoine, curator of Physical Anthropology at the museum.

"You can see on the surface of his body there is a small cut but also his shoulder blade is irregular,' he said. 'We've been able to discover through CT scanning in one of our oldest and probably most famous mummies Gebelein Man who's been on display for over a hundred years. It's only until this year, after CT scanning him and being able to analyse the footage using this interactive table that we've been able to discover a lot more about who he was and how he died."

Experts believe that an absence of defensive wounds suggest that Ginger was the victim of a surprise attack in peace-time and that he died from a single wound. "By removing the different layers we can clearly see how his shoulder blade has been damaged and there's been a single stab wound that's penetrated," Antoine explained.

It's believed Gebelein Man, also known as Ginger because of the distinctive colour of his sand-preserved skin, was a young, athletic, man when he was killed. "Through the analysis of the CT scan we've been able to discover that he was actually a young man when he died, probably between the ages of 18 and 21, and he was probably also a strong young man. His mummified tissue reveals a lot of muscle but his bones, or the shape of his bones, also suggest that he was quite strong," explained Antoine.

Under his left shoulder blade the scan revealed a puncture to the body; the murder weapon had been used with such force it had slightly damaged the shoulder blade, but shattered the rib beneath, and penetrated the lung. It's believed the injury was caused by a copper blade or flint knife at least 12 cm in length and 2 cm wide. "We've been able to find out that not only his left shoulder was, the skin on his left shoulder was damaged, but also the underlying bone, the shoulder blade, the scapula, has been shattered and the underlying rib below the scapula has also been shattered into fragments and all this points out to us a single blow to the back. It looked like he was stabbed in the back over 5,000 years ago," said Antoine.

The Virtual Autopsy Table is commercially available for the medical sector through the Sectra AB. A similar table, the Anatomage, is used to carry out virtual dissections by surgeons and medical students at St Mary's Hospital in London, offering the promise of revolutionising the teaching of anatomy and changing how surgeons plan and conduct real operations.

The 'cadaver' which appears on the Virtual Autopsy Table screen is created using a mixture of graphics and real computed tomography (CT) scans. Gebelein Man's body was stripped back to expose his internal organs and individual areas were enlarged by touch-screen to enable detailed study.

From now until December 16 visitors to the British Museum can take on the role of amateur pathologist and explore his life and what led to his death, by looking inside his body.

Gebelein Man was originally buried at the site of Gebelein, in Upper Egypt. The reconstruction of his grave illustrates the early Egyptian custom of placing the body in a contracted, foetal position, usually on the left side, with the head to the south, facing the west, the land of the dead where he would be reborn. Around him were all the things he might need for his afterlife, especially pottery to hold and serve food. Direct contact with the hot, dry sand in which Gebelein Man was buried, naturally dried and mummified his remains. He was found at Gebelein, about 25 miles (40km) south of Thebes, in Egypt in 1896 and acquired by the British Museum in 1900.