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Coffin and mummy of Mehit >

Identifying Mehit

‘There has been a recent good find of mummies … I have told my agent not to spare a few pounds in securing a really good one.’ So wrote Mr Charles Rooking Carter, who donated the mummy of Mehit to the Colonial Museum (now Te Papa) in 1885.’

Based on scanty information from Carter, museum visitors initially believed they were looking at the mummy of a man named Petisiris, priest of the god Khem. But in 1933, amateur Egyptologist Mr R A Hollands examined the coffin hieroglyphs and concluded that Mehit was a priestess named Neith.

Then, in 1957, English Egyptologist Dr Mary S Palmer overturned Hollands’ reading. Her examination of the hieroglyphs established that the mummy was a woman name Mehit-em-Wesekht, daughter of
Nefer-ii, a musician priestess in the temple of the local fertility god Min. Mehit’s husband was Nes-Min. The hieroglyphs don’t list her father’s name, possibly because descent was traced through female lines. However, they do name his position as a priest in the Temple of Min.

But did the wrappings really contain a mummy? When Ross O’Rourke joined the Museum in 1960, he set about finding out. Sure enough, x-rays taken in 1961 revealed Mehit. The fact that her wisdom teeth had not yet erupted gave the clue to her adolescent age when she died. However, there was no evidence pointing to a reason for her death.

skull torso
X-ray of skull
X-ray of torso

The x-rays also revealed that Mehit’s arms are crossed over her chest. A solid mass of resin lies at the back of her skull. These features are characteristic of mummification at the time Mehit lived and died, around 300 BCE. The only unusual aspect is the apparent lack of amulets adorning her body.

Ross has since been searching for Mehit’s relatives. A gravestone in Cairo Museum confirms Mehit’s identity and that of her mother. It also lists other relatives, but Ross has so far been unable to locate them in the world’s museums.

Computerised Tomography (CT) scans will soon be made of Mehit. CT scans are three-dimensional and much more detailed than x-rays. They may confirm whether organs such as the heart have been left in her body (as is thought) or whether any amulets are present. They may also suggest a reason for her death or determine whether she had children. If any tissue is left, it could even be possible to create a virtual model of how Mehit looked in life.

The investigation into the mystery of Mehit continues.