Inside Explorer at the British Museum

CASE STUDY - BRITISH MUSEUM (UK)

The story
Inside Explorer Table has allowed a virtual autopsy to be undertaken on one of the British Museum’s most well-known mummies and has revealed he was probably murdered. The Interactive Institute  have provided a Inside Explorer Table so visitors to the Museum will have an opportunity to use the new non-invasive technology  and discover new ways of looking at life and death in Early Egypt.

One of the key attractions in the Early Egypt gallery (Gallery 64) at the British Museum is the body of a man who was buried in about 3500 BC at the site of Gebelein in Upper Egypt. Known as Gebelein Man, he was wrapped in linen and matting, and was placed in a crouched position in a shallow grave. Discovered in 1896, this mummy is one of the best preserved individuals known from Ancient Egypt, but about whom we actually knew very little. Although he has been in the British Museum’s collections for over 100 years (acquired in 1900), it was not until 2012 that he was CT scanned for the first time. 

Inside Explorer Table make it possible for visitors to explore this natural mummy for themselves and learn how we have only now been able to discover his age and determine the surprising way that he died. Using the interactive touchscreen and the gesture based interface, it is possible to strip away the skin to expose his skeleton, and make virtual slices to view his internal organs and his brain, still present in the skull, organs that were often removed when the ancient Egyptians began to artificially mummify bodies. Information points at relevant locations will guide the visitor to explore the more significant discoveries.

See video about project from British Museum

A virtual rotation of the body shows the shape of his pelvis (hip bones), which confirms he was a male and zooming in on his leg and arm bones one can see the  fusion lines that indicate he had only recently finished growing and was probably 18-21 years old when he died. Consistent with his age, his teeth, fully visible for the first time, show light wear and no dental problems.

‘This technology allow us to learn more about life and death in ancient Egypt, but most importantly our visitors can take part in that exploration and discovery process"
-  Neal Spencer, Keeper of Ancient Egypt of Sudan, British Museum, London

In addition, these new scans are allowing us to visualize something more unexpected. A cut in his skin over his left shoulder blade doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the 3D visualisation of the CT scan shows that this was probably caused by a sharp pointed weapon 1.5-2cm wide that penetrated the underlying shoulder blade (scapula). The absence of any signs of healing and the severity of the injuries suggest that this can be considered the cause of death.

Weapons as symbols of power and status are fairly common in the graves as this period, but evidence of violence are extremely rare. The lack of other defensive wounds suggests the injury was not a result of warfare, and that perhaps he didn’t even see it coming and could have been murdered. He has been on display for many decades, but it is only now, through the use of modern science and state-of-the-art technology that we are beginning to understand how Gebelein man lived and died.

QUICK FACTS:

Partner: British Museum
Location: London, UK
Type: Temporay exhibition 
Project: Gebelein man
Date: 2012-11-16 

Hardware: 55" mobile multitouch table 
Content: CT scan 
Additional services provided: Data interpretation, visualization expertize, forensic consultting, evaluation

CLIENT WEBSITE
www.britishmuseum.org

ABOUT EXHIBIT
"Virtual autopsy:explore a naturalmummy from early Egypt"

MEDIA
Pictures on Flickr

PRESS (selected sources):
BBC News (UK) , "British Museum exhibit Gebelein Man died 'violent death'" 
Dagens Nyheter (SE), "3D-teknik avslöjar förhistoriskt mord"
The Times (UK), "Murder at the British Museum: cold case experts hunt for clues to ancient mystery"
Daily Mail (UK), " Scan reveals 5,500-year-old murder mystery of British Museum's most famous mummy"
The Telegraph (UK), "Revealed: the secrets of a 5,500-year-old mummy murder mystery" 
Channel 4 (UK), "Museum sleuths unearth murdered mummy's secret"
SVT (SE), "Ny kriminalteknik avslöjar mumiemord" 
ITV News (UK),"From vimeo.com"
ABC News (US), "Modern Science Unravels Ancient Mummy Mysteries"
BBC UK - China (CH), "科技揭示最古老木乃伊死因"
Dagens Nyheter (SE), "Så avslöjade svensk teknik mumiens död"
SVT (SE), "Vetenskapens Värld"
CBS News (US), "3D mapping solves 5,000-year-old murder"
CTV (CA), "Virtual autopsy reveals 5,000-year-old mummy was murdered"
Reuters (INT), "Virtual autopsy reveals ancient mummy murder"
Scientific American (US), "Virtual Autopsy Reveals Ancient Mummy Murder"
Museum for All (UK), "British Museum opens new interactive exhibit in Egyptian gallery using Virtual ..."