By Amanda Bernocco
In ancient Egypt, people preserved the dead by mummifying their corpses. Observing the way the mummy is wrapped, and their measurements, help mummy experts learn about the ancient civilization.
“Mummies are like little encyclopedias. If you know how to read them, they’ve got a lot of information in them,” said Bob Brier, Ph.D., egyptologist, senior research fellow, and professor at LIU Post.
Brier, who is also known as Mr. Mummy, x-rayed a female Egyptian mummy’s arm in the medical imaging lab at LIU Post recently for a children’s documentary that will be aired on a new channel, called the Children’s Documentary Network.
The Egyptian arm, named Lefty, was given to Brier one year for Valentine’s Day from his wife. Brier kept Lefty hanging on a wall in a case inside their home for years before his curiosity led him to x-raying the arm.
From studying Lefty, Brier discovered that the arm was from
an Egyptian woman, who was about 50-years-old. Her bones were very white, signaling that she was well mineralized. This told Brier she had a good diet.
“I could also tell that she probably didn’t do much work: meaning she was probably an elite,” said Brier. He explained that if someone has muscle, it shows up in his or her bones because as your muscle increases, your bone density increases as well.
Lefty also had arthritis in her fingers. Brier was able to tell because the spaces between her joints were closed, which explains why arthritis feels painful. This helped him determine her age because most people do not get arthritis when they are in their 20s.
“And she didn’t have a lot of muscle. So she
wasn’t working in the kitchen, you know, kneading bread all the time. You learn a lot about them. And that’s why I x-rayed her arm – to find out what her life was like,” said Brier.
Brier said she was doing very well since she didn’t have a lot of muscle and she was well wrapped. However, she wanted to be buried with a bracelet, which she didn’t have, so she had a bracelet painted on her arm.
“It was kind of sweet,” Brier said about the bracelet painted on Lefty’s wrappings.
The way Brier analyzed Lefty is a very standard procedure that he uses every day. He often uses a computed tomography (CT) scan on the mummies he studies to learn more about their histories, as well,
Throughout Brier’s career he has traveled all over the world to study different mummies, and hosted several educational videos about mummies that aired on channels such as TLC and National Geographic. The oldest mummy Brier has studied was about 5,000-years old and was found in Egypt’s Old Kingdom.
On Nov. 12, Brier will release his new book “EGYPTOMANIA,” in which he discusses why he feels that people are fascinated by Egypt.
“I try to do a couple of things in the book. One is I try to answer the question: ‘Why are people so fascinated with Egypt?’” said Brier. “For example, if you put little kids in a museum and you ask them do you want to go to the Greek section or the Egyptian section, they’re going to pick the Egyptian section. Why?” Brier said his book is his way of answering that question.
“I think it’s partly immortality. I think we look at a mummy, and we’re looking at a human being who lived 3,000 years ago, but he’s still recognizable. And I think we’re a little bit envious. I think when we look at this mummy, who is still in pretty good shape after 3,000 years, that maybe, it’s a kind of immortality that we would like to have also.”
Brier will be giving a lecture about his book, and having a book signing, in the Hillwood Lecture Hall from 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 12, the same day his book is released.