This summer, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a prominent local cardiologist, and an Egyptian anthropologist have all taken part in a unique collaboration to unearth the secrets of the Museum’s 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy.
The discoveries, the most prominent of which is a sketch of what the man underneath the wrappings actually looked like, will be revealed to the public in a special presentation today at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the Museum’s Atkins Auditorium. (The program is free, although tickets must be reserved through the Museum’s website.)
The findings were unveiled recently at a Museum press conference attended by ATF deputy director Kenneth Melson, as well as Nelson-Atkins curator of ancient art Robert Cohon and Mid America Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Randall Thompson. “Today, what we’re celebrating is the marriage of art and science,” new Museum director Julian Zugazagoitia said in his opening remarks, the first to the press since beginning his tenure earlier this month.
Indeed, the collaboration seems rather farfetched, almost like something out of an old X-files case. “It’s a bit of CSI and art,” Zugazagoitia remarked, in another T.V. reference. The scientific look at the mummy actually began at the prompting of Dr. Thompson, who was part of a team that examined the CT scans of 20 mummies housed in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt. The group was looking for evidence of heart disease in ancient Egyptians.
Eventually, Dr. Thompson was invited to examine the CT scans and X-rays of the Nelson-Atkins museum, and it was then that he reached out to the ATF for its expertise in composite renderings. “This project really highlights the intersection of forensic science, medicine, art and more uniquely, law enforcement,” said deputy director Melson. ATF Special Agents Sharon Whitaker and Robert Strode used the agency’s EFIT—Electronic Facial Imaging Technique—a computerized composite rendering system, to develop a sketch of the ancient Egyptian man.
Robert Cohon, the always passionate curator of ancient art at the Nelson-Atkins, spoke about the Museum’s motivation in having their mummy—which they acquired from Emory University in 2004 and named Ka-i-nefer, which means, “my vital life force is good”—examined so closely. “Well, first of all, our staff is very curious,” he said. “[Through radio-carbon dating] we were able to come up with a rough date of 525 to 332 B.C. [for the mummy’s death]…It was then that we had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Thompson. And he said ‘Do you mind if I take a look at the X-ray and CAT scans of your mummy?” And we said ‘Please do.’
“He did, and he started coming back with some really cool information, including shoe size. But more than that, he said, ‘Heck, why don’t I introduce you to some people in the ATF? They can help you reconstruct the face.’ And we said ‘Sure, bring them in.’ It was another piece of the puzzle.”
The image that the ATF Special Agents came up with is a rather stark one, with dead, almost criminal eyes, which seems almost appropriate considering the EFIT program renders images for law enforcement purposes. In life, Ka-i-nefer lived to be 45 to 55 years old, stood about 5 feet five inches and wore a size seven shoe (or sandal). He had unusually good teeth and was probably closer to an elite status, although his exact position in society is unknown.
Deputy director Melson pointed out the difficulty in obtaining all of this information. “It’s unlike the typical case…This is where there were no eye witnesses, there were no early photographs of the person for age progression purposes. There were no skulls or other parts to use because, remember, this individual was wrapped in linen.”
The mummy is displayed along with many other Egyptian artifacts, including a stunning coffin and funerary collection, in the Museum’s new Egyptian galleries, which reopened last May. For more information on Ka-i-nefer, and all of the Museum’s treasures, visit their website.