The Two Brothers (c) Rutherford Press
A pair of mummies' boys
Forget the treasures of Tutankhamun. A pair of Egyptian mummies who have lain quietly in Manchester Museum for nearly a century are about to reveal their secrets.
The ‘Two Brothers’ were first unwrapped at the Museum in 1908, a year after they were discovered by the great Egyptologist Flinders Petrie and his team, and have been on show there ever since.
Now, the Former Keeper of Egyptology at the Museum, Professor Rosalie David, has brought together the secrets of the pair in a new book. She says she’s been interested in the mummies ever since she arrived in Manchester.
Professor Rosalie David
"I started my academic career at the Museum in 1972, when I was appointed to look after the Egyptian collection, so my interest was there from the very beginning. But when we established the Manchester Mummy Project in 1973, the brothers became a focus of our studies."
In the 34 years since the project began, the mummies of Khnum-Nakht and Nakht-Ankh have undergone many tests, with more of the mysteries revealing themselves as new technologies became available, though as Rosalie explains, the work started long before the project.
"When the mummies were originally unwrapped in 1908, it was the first palaeo-pathological study with a multi-disciplinary team, but they had limited techniques available. There was morbid anatomy, which is simply looking at the body with your eyes, and they also looked at the dyes and the plants in the bandages.
"When we came to look at them, we had X-ray, we could look at tissues down a microscope, and later we could look for diseases that they had and of course then the DNA techniques. With each thing, we’ve been able to add substantial information to what we know about the brothers.
"We’ve also been able to prove or disprove the original conclusions that the 1908 reached, so it’s not just been our work, we’ve also been able to put it into context of the original study too."
One thing that has always stumped scientists is whether the mummies are actually brothers. Sadly, even the most cutting edge technology hasn’t been able to fathom that mystery.
"That’s the million dollar question and the truth is there are two answers to that. What the research has thrown up is that scientific results can’t always give you a clear answer because of the techniques involved – such as the samples that you can use. What I would say is that there is more room for future work here."
Unlike many Egyptian tomb collections in museums, the set in Manchester Museum is complete, which means, as Professor David puts it, investigators can "use the interrelation of the archaeological, the inscriptional and the biomedical evidence" to find out more, including a cause of death!
"In the case of one of them, the histology [analysing tissue samples] has revealed lung and heart disease, which almost certainly are the two diseases that killed him."
One of the Two Brothers' sarcophagi
Mancs for the mummies
Professor David is adamant on just what important specimens the pair are, even when compared to the internationally renowned boy king.
"Tutankhamun was a king and is world famous, whereas the Two Brothers were upper class; they were the sons of a local prince. But what was said at the time of the discovery was that this tomb group was probably the best example that had been found.
"So even as they were, they were very important. I wouldn’t claim they are in the Tutankhamun category, but with all the work that has since been done on them, they’re incredibly important and we’re just so lucky to have them here in Manchester."
But why has Manchester got such a fine pair? Rosalie says that the reason for that is a matter of civic pride.
"Usually when a tomb was discovered with contents, they were split up between different museums because they had all funded the excavator, so it’s unusual to have an entire group stay together and come to one place.
"They came like that to Manchester because the local people collected £570 and 19 shillings. The agreement with the excavator was that if £500 could be raised for his next season’s excavation, then the whole group would come to Manchester, so that’s what happened. The people of Manchester actually made it possible for the Two Brothers to come here."
So before you shoot off to London to see the wonders of Tutankhamun, why not take a trip to Manchester Museum and see our very own magnificent mummies?
Rosalie David holds the KNH Professorship of Biomedical Egyptology in the University of Manchester. Her book, The Two Brothers: Death and the Afterlife in Middle Kingdom Egypt, is published by Rutherford Press.
last updated: 28/03/2008 at 10:52