This week let’s talk about an elite lady from the 25th and 26th dynasties. Her name is Asru and she is currently located at the Manchester Museum in the United Kingdom (1777.a-c)!
Asru’s name meant “Her arm against them,” which is probably a reference to the protective power of the goddess Mut, consort of the Theban god Amun. Her mother was Lady of the House Ta-di-Amun, or “She whom Amun has given,” and her father was called Pa-Kush, or “The Kushite,” who was a document scribe of the southern region. Although her father’s name sounds a bit odd, the 25th dynasty was actually ruled by Kushite kings, coming from the southern nation of Kush (also called Nubia).
Asru herself only had one title as Lady of the House, which means that she was a married woman. She has been previously misidentified as a temple singer or handmaiden, which are pretty common titles women carried in Ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, we do not know the name of her husband or if they had any children.
Asru probably died when she was between 50 and 60 years old, which was a considerable age for an Ancient Egyptian. A reconstruction of her face was made in the 1970s by Richard Neave.
Asru and her sarcophagus were among the earliest additions to the Manchester Museum collection after being donated to the Manchester National History Society by William and Robert Garnett in 1825. The mummy had been previously unwrapped before donation, no doubt at a Victorian Unwrapping party (check on my Fun Fact Friday page to learn more about those).
She was examined as part of the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project in the 1970s and scanned in 2012 in preparation for the reopening of the gallery. The 2012 examination was led by Professors Rosalie David and Judith Adams. I’ll put all the results below!
Asru was buried in two coffins. The outer coffin depicts Asru with a stripped wig and large broad collar. There are a winged sun-disk and depictions of the Asru being brought before the gods while her heart is being weighed.
The inner coffin depicts Asru with a vulture headdress and another broad collar. Below there is a winged figure of the sky goddess Nut and another depiction of her heart being weighed. Further down there is also a depiction of Asru’a Ba, depicted as a human-headed bird, hovering over her mummy lying on a bed.
Both coffins are covered in formulaic offering spells that mention her parents.
As I mentioned earlier, Asru was anywhere from 50 to 60 years old at her death and her mummy was previously unwrapped. Through these examinations and scans, multiple medical problems have been determined.
Asru suffered from arthritis and parasitic infections called Strongyloidiasis (also known as threadworm) and Schistosomiasis (also known as Snail Fever or Bilharzia). Her arthritis was in her neck and may have been caused by bearing a heavy weight over a prolonged period of time. It has been speculated that she may have carried something on her head that had a ritual function.
The infections would have given her anemia, a cough, stomach aches, and diarrhea. She also had a slipped disc in her back and a hydatid cyst in her lung, the latter caused by the parasites.
When her mummy was scanned, it was discovered that her brain had been removed from her skull, but the ethmoid bone, which is the bone separating the nasal cavity and the brain, was found intact. Her brain was most likely removed through the eye socket, which is not unknown, but unusual.
Interestingly as part of the examination, Asru’s fingerprints and toeprints were taken by the Greater Manchester Police. This showed none of the wear and tear that most ordinary Egyptians would have expected. This supports the theory that she was from the upper class and never worked a hard labor job.
Coffin and Mummy – Manchester Museum Blog
Reconstruction statue and mummy face – Ancient Egypt.co.uk