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Boston hospital cleaning Egyptian mummy

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POSTED June 7, 2013 7:52 p.m.


 

BOSTON (AP) — A 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy named Padihershef came out of his coffin Friday to go to the hospital.

Well, actually, he had already been there for a while.

The mummy has been on display at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the nation's oldest, since it received him as a gift from the city of Boston in 1823 as a medical oddity. He is one of the first complete mummies brought to the United States.

A conservator trained in restoring ancient artifacts removed him from his coffin Friday and began using cotton swabs dabbed in saliva to wipe away salt deposits from his face. The salt has been slowly seeping out of his tissue, a result of the mummification process.

Mimi Leveque, the conservator, also used a tiny brush to wipe the film of white salt and used a small vacuum cleaner to remove the fine dust from skin darkened by mummification resins.

"I suppose you could say it was something very similar to a facelift, maybe more; maybe he is getting a facial in a spa, perhaps," she said.

Experts are also expected to do minor repair and stabilization work on his coffin. The whole process is expected to take three days.

The mummy and his coffin will then be moved to a special horizontal case, in which they will lie next to each other, in the Ether Dome, a surgical amphitheater where William T. G. Morton demonstrated the first public surgery using anesthetic on Oct. 16, 1846.

Padihershef was a 40-year-old stonecutter in the necropolis in Thebes, an ancient city on the west bank of the Nile, in what is today's Luxor.

"He was probably someone who was employed to open up the ground and to create the tombs for the kings in the Valley of Kings," said Leveque, who specializes in Egyptian antiquities.

The mummy was a gift from a Dutch diplomat who was happy with Boston's hospitality. The artifact's arrival created quite a stir, and trustees of the hospital leased it to an entrepreneur who charged visitors $2.50 each to see it during a tour of American cities that extended as far south as Charleston, S.C., officials said.

No one knows exactly how the man who became a mummy lived or died. Experts are exploring those questions through a conservation project supported by the hospital and donors.

He had been greeting visitors to the hospital from his upright, open sarcophagus. He was removed from his case in March and taken on a patient stretcher to the imaging suites in the hospital, where technicians subjected him to full body X-ray and CT scanning.

Experts were surprised to see a broom handle embedded at the base of his head and running through his torso in what likely was a crude attempt to stabilize his head. There are no records to indicate when the repair was done and by whom, the hospital said on its website.

The study was intended to produce images that could be compared with those gleaned from exams conducted in 1931 and 1976 and to determine the condition of his bones. Those earlier tests revealed his bones had interrupted growth lines that indicate a severe childhood illness that resulted in stunted growth.

They also showed the mummy still has the brain in his skull, a rarity because it was typically removed to eliminate the chance of decomposition.

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