Scientists put a 2,000-year-old mummy through a CAT scan and that’s a little too much detail!

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The four phases of mummy unwrapping in the CT scan. Credit: Egyptian Museum

Meet Golden Boy: A wealthy Egyptian teenager who’s waited a very long time for his first CAT scan.

Over two millennia, in fact.

The cloth wrapped and embalmed mummy of the adolescent, encased in an elaborate sarcophagus, was fed into the scanner by Egyptian scientists curious to see what was within its burial container.

In doing so, the wooden coffin, first discovered more than a century ago in a cemetery south of Cairo, will remain closed, ensuring the child continues to rest easy.

Analysis of the scans found Golden Boy’s name is well deserved – his family were evidently high up in during Late Ptolemaic Egyptian society.

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The precision of the CAT scan can inform scientists of 2000-year-old anatomic and cultural detail. Credit: Egyptian Museum

He was decorated with dozens of amulets – mostly gold – carefully arranged on top or within his body.

A golden heart scarab amulet was placed within his chest cavity and a golden tongue within his mouth.

The detail of the scan even detected a two-finger amulet – exclusively given to the Egyptian dead – next to his uncircumcised penis.

Dr Sahar Saleem from Cario University who led the study says this may indicate the body’s ethnic and cultural heritage, and that the mummy is an important example of burial rituals practised by the ancient Egyptians.

“This mummy’s body was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylised in a unique arrangement of three columns between the folds of the wrappings and inside the  body cavity,” Saleem says.

“These include the Eye of Horus, the scarab, the akhet amulet of the horizon, the placenta, the Knot of Isis, and others. Many were made of gold, while some were made of semiprecious stones, fired clay, or faience.

“Their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife.”

Golden Boy was, in real life, aged around 14-15, around 128cm and, according to the researchers, the possessor of an impressive dental record: no cavities, tooth loss or disease.

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Golden Boy goes in for his scan. Credit: Egyptian Museum.

Aside from his evident wealth detected in the CT scan, he was also found wearing a golden head mask and white sandals, which Saleem says were “probably meant to enable the boy to walk out of the coffin”, upon entering the afterlife.

“Bouquets of plants and flowers were placed beside the deceased at the time of burial: this was done with the mummies of the New Kingdom kings Ahmose, Amenhotep I, and Ramesses the Great.”

While Golden Boy’s heart remained in place, most of his other internal organs were removed.

His heart was protected – as described in the Book of the Dead – by a scarab, which is intended to quell the Egyptian’s heart when it was judged. The researchers suggest this finding indicates ancient Egyptians valued their children and sought to protect them as they passed into the afterlife. 

Despite spending two millennia in the Nag el–Hassaya cemetery, and the last century sleeping soundly in the museum’s basement, Golden Boy is now set for a noisier future as part of the main display upstairs.

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