Mummy Monday: Takabuti

This week let’s learn about a mummy with a tragic death. Let me introduce you to Takabuti, the mummy at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Life

Takabuti was a young woman living in Thebes during the 25th Dynasty. Her mother’s name was Taseniric and her father (whose name seems to be lost) was a priest of Amun. She held the title of Mistress of the House, meaning she was probably married to a middle-class or elite man. She was about 20 to 30 years old when she died. The circumstances around her death are very mysterious and I will talk about them at the end of the post.

Provenance

The mummy and her coffin were purchased by Thomas Greg of Ballymenoch House, Holywood Co. Down in 1834. It is unclear where it was purchased from. The mummy was originally donated to Belfast’s Natural History Society’s museum. She was the first Egyptian mummy to travel to Ireland. It was later transferred to the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

This is where it was unwrapped and examined on January 27th, 1835. Egyptologist Edward Hincks was present during this examination and helped decipher the hieroglyphs. Funnily enough, her name was originally translated as “Kabooti.” After the examination, there were dozens of newspaper articles written about her all over Ireland. She also had a poem written about her and a painting done.

You can learn more about the mummy in this video!

Mummy

Unfortunately, because the mummy was unwrapped, there were multiple beetles found on the mummy. A small sample of hair was taken from her, and you can see it here framed. Her hair is in excellent condition. It was very fine and only about 3 ½ inches long. It was styled in ringlets and it was a deep auburn shade.

Most middle or upper-class Egyptians shaved their heads to avoid lice. Mummies’ heads were also sometimes shaved, but not Takabuti’s. Her hair was cut, curled, and gelled. It was also most likely dark brown when she was alive.

Most of her brain tissue is gone, removed from the back of her skull. Her eyes have been removed and packed with linen. It was originally thought that her heart was removed, mummified, and then put back in her body. But this object in her chest cavity turned out to be material to pack a wound. She also had two rare mutations. She had an extra tooth, which appears in 0.02% of the population, and an extra vertebra, which occurs in 2% of the population.

Takabuti’s DNA was tested recently. It turns out that she was part of mitochondrial haplogroup H4a1. This technically means that her DNA is more closely related to Europeans rather than modern Egyptians. Some have accused the investigators of wanting to prove that ancient Egyptians were white, which was then dismissed by the curators. Because Takabuti lived in the 25th dynasty of Egypt, this result makes more sense as this was a time where there was a larger mixing of different civilizations in Egypt.

Finally, there was damage to her left hand and spine. These injuries were post-mortem. Her hand was probably damaged when the mummy was prepared for burial because parts of her missing fingers were found inside her chest. Her lower back break likely happened when she was unwrapped in 1835.

Circumstances around her Death

Now to the juiciest detail about this mummy. There is strong evidence that she was murdered! The theories have slightly changed over time, but scholars still agree that she was most likely murdered gruesomely.

It was originally suspected that she stabbed with a knife, but it is now suspected to have been an ax. A new book in 2021 examined the circumstances around her death. The wound is in her upper left shoulder and was likely instantaneously fatal. Several of her ribs were fractured because of the injury. It has been hypothesized that she may have been attempting to escape from her assailant. This could have been one of Takabuti’s own people or an Assyrian soldier.

You can also watch a lecture about this mummy and read an article about her DNA results below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnE3gPKS5kU

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takabuti

https://www.livescience.com/egypt-mummy-murdered-with-knife.html

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/shocking-truth-behind-takabutis-death-revealed/

https://www.nmni.com/our-museums/ulster-museum/Things-to-see/Takabuti-the-ancient-Egyptian-mummy.aspx

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-74114-9

Image Sources

Coffin and mummy – Wikimedia Commons (Notafly)

Coffin and Mummy – Ulster Museum (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/2600-year-old-mummy-died-violent-backstabbing-180974066/)

Coffin and Mummy – https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/shocking-truth-behind-takabutis-death-revealed/

Tons more images – https://www.nmni.com/our-museums/ulster-museum/Things-to-see/Takabuti-the-ancient-Egyptian-mummy.aspx

Her in the gallery – https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/mummy-murder-case-Takabuti-finally-solved

Facial reconstruction – Flickr (Gareth Ashe)

Mummy Monday: “Bleached Mummy”

I am back! This week’s post is short and sweet, but still very interesting. This mummy is unfortunately just a head of an unnamed woman, but her mummified skin holds some secrets of ancient Egyptian cosmetics.

Provenance

This head most likely belonged to a woman who was buried in the Theban Necropolis during the 18th dynasty. The head most likely appeared in the Cairo Museum between 1898 and 1930, probably excavated, donated, or sold to the museum.

It was then sold to a Spanish collector and banker Ignacio Bauer. Finally it was donated to the Real Sociedad de Arqueologia, Anthropolygiay Prehistoria in Madrid. This is where the head is currently located today.

At first this head was thought to be the beheaded skull of a Guinean woman, but in 2007 researchers traced it back to Egypt.

Skin Condition

The mummy was probably around 20 to 25 years old when she died. The most intriguing thing about the head were a series of tiny nodules found underneath the cheeks and on the back of the neck. This condition points to a skin disorder or dermatosis called exogenous ochronosis. This is characterized by a blue black pigmentation.

This condition typically results from the long term application of skin lightening or bleaching products. Now obviously studies of this condition are centered around modern skin lightening products so regarding this ancient Egyptian mummy, the results are not clear.

Ancient Egyptian cosmetics sometimes contained lead as a primary ingredient, which could have caused this condition. This means that the ancient Egyptian woman may have not be using product to bleach her skin, but simply a normal Egyptian cosmetic that had an ingredient that caused the skin inflammation.

This is why personally I would move away from the title of “Bleached Mummy.”

Cosmetics in ancient Egypt are also related to the religious and magical parts of Egyptian life, so this may have been more than an aesthetic choice.

Sources

https://mummipedia.fandom.com/wiki/Bleached_Mummy

https://www.seeker.com/mummy-head-shows-ancient-egyptians-bleached-their-skin-1851531742.html

https://khentiamentiu.blogspot.com/2016/06/mummy-shows-ancient-egyptians-bleached.html

Image Sources

Museum – https://foliosdehistorias.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/image_gallery.jpg

Skull – https://www.seeker.com/mummy-head-shows-ancient-egyptians-bleached-their-skin-1851531742.html

Women Crush Wednesday: Nina de Garis Davies

This week let’s look at another Egyptologist who specialized in illustrating and copying ancient Egyptian tomb paintings! Her name was Nina de Garis Davies.

Early Life

Nina was born Anna Machpherson Cummings on January 6th, 1881 in Salonika, Greece. She was the eldest of three daughters of Cecil J. Cummings, who was of English and Scottish ancestry. Her family returned to Aberdeen, Scotland with the death of her father in 1894. They then moved to Bedford where the girls went to private school. Nina showed considerable promise as an artist in her youth. It was so promising that her family moved to London for her training at the Slade School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London.

Norman and Nina de Garis Davies

In 1906, she went to visit a friend in Alexandria, Egypt, which is where she met her future husband Norman de Garis Davies. Norman was born in 1865 and studied theology at Glasgow University and Marburg University before working with Egyptologist Flinders Petrie at Dendera. He later became the head of the Egypt Exploration Fun’s Archaeological Survey and was an expert at interpreting Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Their house in Egypt, with Nina sitting on the front porch

Nina and Norman hit it off right away and were married in Hampstead, London on the 8th of October 1907. They settled in the Theban Necropolis and began documenting tomb paintings.

Life in Egypt

One of the first projects the couple worked on was for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York making facsimiles. They did this by tracing the tomb images and then replicating the brushstrokes and colors. In most cases, the copies reflected the actual scene, including any damage to the walls. In other cases, the drawings were rendered to look like they would have when the tomb was originally built thousands of years ago.

Technically, Norman was hired for this position, but Nina was also a part-time worker. Interestingly, most of the time it is difficult to differentiate Nina and Norman’s paintings. Nina signed her work Ni.deGD and Norman signed his pieces No.deGD. But others were signed N.dGD, which makes it entirely unclear.

Drawing by Norman of the various tombs in the Theban Necropolis

The tombs were located on the Nile’s west bank of western Thebes, which included the tombs of the officials, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the Deir el-Medina. It is one of the “richest sources of ancient Egyptian paintings preserved anywhere in Egypt.”

They started experimenting with color copying in Theban Tomb 45. Usually, copyists used watercolors, but one of their first assistants Francis Unwin suggested the use of tempera, which is a faster drying paint made with egg yolks. First, the artist does a pencil tracing against the wall and then painted the rest by eye.

Nina’s paintings were also recognized by another Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner, who acquired as many of her paintings as possible between 1909 and 1929. These were then published in two volumes of Ancient Egyptian paintings.

Nina with friends in her garden, including Rosalind Moss on the left

Nina is specifically credited for plates in publications of the Tomb of Amenemhet, Huy, and Ramose. She and her husband also worked for the Egypt Exploration Society and the Oriental Institute by documenting other Egyptian sites like Abydos and Amarna.

Later Life

Nina and Norman lived in a house in Qurna until 1939 when they moved back to England. They most likely left because of Norman’s age and the MMA policy. But their house was not emptied, implying that they may come back. Norman died in 1941 and Nina got to work organizing his objects, books, and papers. She reorganized the material for his publication of the Temple of Hibis in el-Kharga Oasis III. She then cataloged the textile collection of P.E. Newberry, aided Gardiner in editing Seven Private Tombs at Kurneh, and painted facsimiles of all sides of the box of Tutankhamun in 1962.

Nina died in 1965 but she lives on in her paintings, which help preserve and document the tombs of the Theban Necropolis.

Collections

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has 413 pieces by Nina and Norman de Garis Davies. 157 were painted by Nina, 15 have both their names, and 59 are signed by Norman.

The British Museum has 22 of Nina’s paintings which were donated in 1936 by Alan Gardiner. Some more of her paintings can be found here.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544567

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548565

https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/barbering-tomb-of-userhat-nina-de-garis-davies/RQFu-xgT96y2kw?hl=en

Publications

Here are some of their publications:

  • Egypt Exploration Fund (Egypt); Nina Macpherson Davies; Norman de Garis Davies, Alan Henderson Gardiner (1915). The Theban Tombs Series. Edited by Norman de Garis Davies and Alan H. Gardiner.
  • Nina de Garis Davies; Sir Alan H. Gardiner (1923). Facsimiles of Theban Wall-paintings by Nina de Garis Davies Lent by Alan H. Gardiner. Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • Norman de Garis Davies (1901). The Rock Tombs of Sheikh Saïd. Sold at the Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Walter Ewing Crum; George Albert Boulenger (1902). The Rock Tombs of Deir El Gebrâwi: Tomb of the Aba and smaller tombs of the southern group. Sold at the offices of the Egypt exploration fund.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Seymour de Ricci; Geoffrey Thorndike Martin (1906). The Rock Tombs of El-A̕marna: The tomb of Meyra. Sold at the Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Seymour de Ricci (1908). The Rock Tombs of El Amarna: Smaller tombs and boundary stelae.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Seymour de Ricci; Geoffrey Thorndike Martin (1908). The Rock Tombs of El-A̕marna: The tomb of Meyra. Sold at the Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund.
  • Norman de Garis Davies (1911). Graphic Work of the Egyptian Expedition. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.) (1911). The Rock-cut Tombs of Shiekh Abd El Qurneh, at Thebes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Norman de Garis Davies (1913). Five Theban Tombs: (being Those of Mentuherkhepeshef, User, Daga, Nehemawäy and Tati). London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner.
  • Norman de Garis Davies (1917). The tomb of Nakht at Thebes. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Egyptian Expedition (1933). The tomb of Nefer-hotep at Thebes. Arno Press.
  • Norman de Garis Davies (1920). An Alabaster Sistrum Dedicated by King Teta. Egypt Exploration Society.
  • Norman de Garis Davies; Alan Henderson Gardiner (1920). The Tomb of Antefoker, Visier of Sesostris I, and of His Wife, Senet. Allen & Unwin, under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Egyptian Expedition; Norman de Garis Davies (1918). The Egyptian Expedition, 1916-17. The Museum.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.). Egyptian Expedition; Ambrose Lansing; Norman de Garis Davies, Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White (1920). The Egyptian Expedition, 1916-1919. The Museum.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.); Albert Frisch; Emery Walker, Nina De Garis Davies, Norman de Garis Davies (1925). Egyptian Wall Paintings from Copies by Norman de Garis Davies, Nina de Garis Davies and H.R. Hopgood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

More of her publications can be found here:

https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Davies%2C%20Norman%20de%20Garis%2C%201865%2D1941

http://giza.fas.harvard.edu/modernpeople/1626/full/

http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/4daviest.html

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N._de_Garis_Davies

https://www.brown.edu/Research/Breaking_Ground/results.php?d=1&first=Nina&last=Davies

https://www.brown.edu/Research/Breaking_Ground/bios/Davies_Nina.pdf

Image Sources

Norman and Nina, and another image of Nina – Brown

View of Theban cliffs by Norman – Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of Nakht by Norman and Nina – Wikimedia Commons