Newsday, June 24, 2009, "Mummy's no mommy"

*2nd place, Deadline News category, 2010 Press Club Of Long Island Media Awards*


Talk about a case of mistaken identity.

Egyptologists from the Brooklyn Museum and doctors from North Shore University Hospital learned yesterday through a CT scan that a 2,500-year-old mummy previously thought to be a woman—and named Lady Hor—actually was a man.

Dr. Jesse Chusid said that while the mummy’s bodywrap of linen covered in plaster, called cartonnage, bore the shape of a woman, the body within had the anatomy of a man.

When Lady Hor’s image appeared on the screen, “we knew almost immediately that it was not a woman,” Chusid said. “You can actually see there are the pelvic organs of a male.”

The discovery was made after Chusid, a radiologist, and Dr. Amgad Makaryus, director of cardiac CT and MRI at the Manhasset hospital, performed a 64-slice computed tomography, or CT scan, on the mummy.

The revelation was startling for those from the Brooklyn Museum, as the mummy for decades was believed to be female.

“The re-gendering is a big deal to us,” said Edward Bleiberg, the museum’s curator of Egyptian art. He explained that the lack of a traditional male beard on the cartonnage had led him and other Egyptologists to believe that he was a she.

Lady Hor, who dates from 712-660 BC and now will be known simply as “Hor” (pronounced “khor”), was one of four mummies examined yesterday.

The eldest of the four mummies, Pasebakhaienipet, a royal prince who carried the title Count of Thebes, also had some interesting item stucked beneath his wrappings.

As Chusid, Makaryus and Bleiberg gathered around the computer screens showing the scans of the 3,000-year-old prince, they were stumped by what they saw—a tube like object in the mummy’s throat.

“It was a surprising finding,” Chusid said. Bleiberg, who stared at the screen in amazement, said he had never seen anything like it and was unsure of why the object was there.

The mysterious tube was not all that Pasebakhaienipet’s scan turned up.

“Of the four [mummies], this is the first where we saw a preserved heart,” Chusid said. What he believed to be a mostly intact heart still was in the chest cavity, which was filled with traditional plant resin preservation material.

Because Pasebakhaienipet, who dates from 1188-909 BC, was an “upper-crust” individual, Bleiberg said, he would have had the resources to be preserved in such a way.

Both doctors expressed their excitement to work with the mummies up close.

“For the folks who are the Egyptologists, this is their daily work, but for us, we don’t see something like this very often,” Chusid said. Makaryus concurred, adding,“You go to medical school and you never expect to scan a mummy.”