Mummy Monday: “Usermontu” ?

This week, both Monday and Wednesday’s posts have a slight medical theme. Today we are going to talk about a mummy at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California. He has been known as Usermontu, but that was most likely not his name.

The Provenance of the Mummy

The original provenience of the mummy is completely unknown. In 1971, two sarcophagi were purchased by one of the Marcus brothers, the owners of the store Neiman-Marcus, then primarily located in Texas. They were most likely purchased in England and then sent to their store in Bal Harbor, Texas. At the time, the sarcophagi were both sealed and no one knew about the mummy that lied within.

The two coffins offered in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue of 1971. Left, the coffin of Irturu, and right, the coffin of Usermontu, with the unknown mummy.

The two sarcophagi appeared in the 1971 Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog in a section called “His and Her Gifts for People who Have Everything.” The Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose purchased the coffins for $16,000. As the pieces were being shipped out, a worker heard one of the coffins rattling and discovered the mummy inside the coffin of Usermontu. Apparently, Mr. Marcus was afraid of breaking a law for transporting human remains, so they may have obtained a death certificate for the mummy before it was sent to California.

The Sarcophagus

The coffin of Usermontu, in the display in the Rosicrucian Museum. The coffin next to it happens to belong to a relative of Usermontu, Ta’awa-Sherit.

The coffin (RC-1777) was made for a man named Usermontu, which means “Powerful is Montu.” He probably lived in the 26th Dynasty of the Third Intermediate Period. Titled as a priest of Montu and Lord of Thebes, he was the son of Besenmut and a close relative (probably cousin) of Ta’awa-Sherit. (Her coffin is also located at the Rosicrucian Museum.) This family is well known and powerful during the turmoil of the Saite Period in the 26th Dynasty.

The other coffin (RC-1778) belonged to a person named Irturu and was probably also made in the 3rd Intermediate Period. It is unclear where the mummy that this coffin was made for ended up.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the original provenience of these two coffins. This of course complicates as to who the mummy was in the coffin and why he was placed in this coffin.

The Mummy Itself

The mummy (RC-1779) was placed inside this coffin at an unknown time, but most likely after the real Usermontu was buried. This mummy was found completely naked, except for a small piece of linen around the wrist. (When it arrived in California, it was wrapped with contemporary linen.) This piece of linen dates to 400 B.C.E., which is neither in the New Kingdom nor the Third Intermediate Period, indicating it may date to the reburial of the mummy into the coffin.

Based on the embalming method, he is believed to have lived during the New Kingdom of Egypt, which is the period before the Third Intermediate Period, when the coffin was made. There is, unfortunately, no clue as to where the mummy originally came from, though there are some indications of his identity. In life, he may have been a natural redhead and was around 5 feet tall. The red hair may indicate that he was part of the Ramesside family, who had a history of redheads. His arms were also crossed over his chest, which was a typical pose for royal mummies.

Unfortunately, nothing else is known about his identity. Check out this 3D model of the mummy and listen for more information!

The Orthopedic Implant

In 1995, BYU professor, C. Wilfred Griggs performed some x-rays scans on six mummies in the Rosicrucian Museum in preparation for a lecture. He wanted to analyze some of the artifacts so he could add a local viewpoint to his talk on the application of science and technology in archaeological fieldwork, which turned out to be a lucky break! It was discovered that “Usermontu’s” mummy had a 9 inch (23 cm) iron-made orthopedic screw inside his left knee. It was originally thought to have been inserted in modern times to attach his lower leg.

The scholars examining the mummy found in the coffin of Usermontu

Griggs received permission to unwrap the leg to examine it further. An orthopedic surgeon and chief of radiology were asked to consult on the mummy. They carefully drilled a hole into the bone to allow access for a tiny camera to examine the pin and to extract samples of the bone and the metal. When drilling, the specialist found wetness inside the bone. This was most likely due to the drill bit generating enough heat to melt the resinous glue. They found traces of organic resin, possibly made out of cedar, traces of ancient fats and textiles.

The x-ray of the left knee of the mummy found in the coffin of Usermontu

The pin was created with the same design used today to create bone stabilizations. It tapers into a corkscrew as it enters the femur or the thigh bone. And the other end is in the tibia and has three flanges extending outward from the core of the pin that prevents rotation of the pin inside the bone. This is the first case of a metal orthopedic implant in a mummy.

The screw was most likely inserted after the mummy’s death and before his burial. It was held in place with an organic resin, which is similar to modern bone cement. This was most likely done because the leg had become detached during the mummification process. It would ensure the integrity of the body which was required for the ancient Egyptian afterlife.


Photo Sources

Mummy and Coffins – Roscrucian Museum

Mummy in case – Flickr (Will Scullin)

Mummy in case – Wikimedia Commons (Oleg Alexandrov)

X-Ray – Mummipedia

3D scan –

Picture of Scholars in the Mummy – BYU Magazine

Photo of coffin in case –


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