NEW WILMINGTON Mummy to undergo testing
The mummy and 100 other Egyptian artifacts will be part of a three-month museum display in Harrisburg.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- A Westminster College mystery might soon be solved.
The centuries-old Egyptian mummy that has been on campus since the 1800s is heading to Harrisburg, where her body will be X-rayed and a CAT scan done before she becomes part of a three-month museum exhibit on ancient Egypt. Experts are hoping the tests will reveal her age at death, how she died and possibly some details about her life.
Radiocarbon dating, a process that measures the amount of carbon in linen, dating an object within about 25 years, will also be done.
"It's all the work we've been wanting to do," said Jonathan Elias, an Egyptologist and exhibit designer at the Whitaker Center for Science and Arts in Harrisburg, where the exhibit will be.
Possible link: Elias became involved with the Westminster mummy last year after finding a possible link between it and another one in a Buffalo museum.
Scholars believe the two may be related because of similar writings on their coffins. Linking the two would be important because it would tell Egyptologists more about the Ptolemaic period, a little-known era of Egyptian history that begins 310 years before Jesus Christ was born and ends with the death of the famous Cleopatra in 30 B.C.
Elias said the chronology of this period of history is not well developed and finding a relationship between the Westminster mummy and the one in Buffalo could tell scholars about how Egyptians evolved over time.
The radiocarbon dating and other tests are needed to make comparisons, he said.
Members of Westminster College's cultural artifacts committee had been looking for benefactors to pay for the tests that cost $500 to $1,000 each.
After speaking to Elias, officials from Harrisburg Hospital, which is part of the Pinnicle Health System, decided to donate services of its X-ray laboratory and CAT scanning facilities.
The Whitaker Fund, a private fund-raising arm of the Whitaker Center, agreed to underwrite the radiocarbon dating in exchange for Westminster's lending it nearly 100 Egyptian artifacts, including the mummy, for a three- month display at the center beginning Oct. 20.
Center for artifacts: Samuel Farmerie, curator of cultural artifacts for the college, said many of the things going to the exhibit have never been displayed publicly because Westminster does not have enough space.
The college is home to hundreds of Egyptian artifacts donated by alumni who served as educational and religious missionaries there over the years. Westminster's mummy, which is encased in an air-tight glass case in the Mack Science Library, was a gift from John Giffin, an alumnus who served as a missionary in the 1800s.
He bought the mummy and four others in 1885 for $8 each. He had one shipped to Westminster, another to Erskine College in North Carolina and the third to Wooster College in Ohio, and left one at a school he and another missionary started in Assiut, Egypt.
Elias said they all may be related, but they can't make any links because the one in North Carolina was destroyed in a fire and the Wooster mummy was damaged in a fire. The mummy Giffin left in Egypt has not yet been examined.
They do believe the Westminster and Buffalo mummies are related because both hail from the Egyptian city Akhmim, about 235 miles south of Cairo.
Writing on the coffins indicates they could be father-daughter or mother-son, but the exact relationship can't be determined until radio-carbon dating and DNA testing is done. There are currently no plans for DNA testing, he said.
Linking the two will tell scholars more about changes in coffin construction and mummification over the span of two generations, he said.
Few other details are known about Pesed, Westminster's mummy, other than the writings on her coffin, which indicate she was the daughter of a priest, Elias said. College officials have speculated that she was a young girl when she died because of her size, about 4 feet tall.
Natural shrinkage: However, that theory could be wrong because mummification changes a person's size after death, Elias said.
The medical tests will tell more about her bone density, which will better pinpoint her age at death, whether she had any children and possibly offer clues about her life.
"We will look for any lifetime traumas, even the possibility of microfractures in the legs and arms which might be indicative of some occupational condition," Elias said. "For example, if Pesed had been a temple dancer during her lifetime, there may be some sign in terms of microfractures in one of her legs or ankles."
Pesed will leave Westminster sometime in the next few weeks and the medical tests will be done later this month.
The results should be known immediately and will be part of the exhibit Elias is designing at the Whitaker Center for Science and Arts in Harrisburg.