Paintings have been discovered inside the coffin of an Egyptian mummy after she was lifted out of it for the first time in more than 100 years. Scottish conservators made the discovery during work to conserve Ta-Kr-Hb – pronounced ‘takerheb’ – believed to be a priestess or princess from Thebes.
The mummy, which is nearly 3,000 years old, was in fragile condition after being targeted by grave robbers throughout history. Work has been required to ensure her condition did not deteriorate further before her remains are displayed in the new City Hall Museum in Perth, Scotland.
Conservators were surprised to find painted figures of an Egyptian goddess on both the internal and external bases of the coffin trough when Ta-Kr-Hb was lifted out. Both figures are representations of the Egyptian goddess Amentet or Imentet, known as the ‘She of the West’ or sometimes ‘Lady of the West’.
‘It was a great surprise to see these paintings appear,’ Dr Mark Hall, collections officer at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, told the PA news agency.
‘We had never had a reason to lift the whole thing so high that we could see the underneath of the trough and had never lifted the mummy out before and didn’t expect to see anything there.
‘So to get a painting on both surfaces is a real bonus and gives us something extra special to share with visitors.’
Further research will be carried out on the paintings to find out more about the history of the mummy, believed to date from somewhere between 760 and 525 BC.
The painting on the interior base of the coffin trough was previously hidden by Ta-Kr-Hb and is the best preserved of the two. It shows Amentet in profile, looking right and wearing her typical red dress. Her arms are slightly outstretched and she is standing on a platform, indicating the depiction is of a holy statue or processional figure. Usually, the platform is supported by a pole or column and one of these can be seen on the underside of the coffin trough.
The mummy was originally donated to Perth Museum and Art Gallery by the Alloa Society of Natural Science and Archaeology in 1936, after it was presented by a Mr. William Bailey who had bought it from the curator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
According to SCBP Perth, Ta-Kr-Hb’s 2013 check-up at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital included a CT scan and X-rays of her sarcophagus, which showed she suffered “extensive damage” to the chest and pelvis. Furthermore, these radiography scans also revealed that sometime after her body had been mummified, Transnasal excerebration surgery had been performed, meaning the jelly like brain mass was carefully removed through the woman’s sinuses by professionally trained physicians.
Perth Museum and Art Gallery are now hoping to save ‘Ta-Kr-Hb’ – as written in hieroglyphics on the lid of her coffin – for future generations.
‘The key thing we wanted to achieve was to stabilise the body so it didn’t deteriorate any more so it has been rewrapped and then we wanted to stabilise the trough and upper part of the coffin which we’ve done,’ said Dr Hall.
‘Doing this means everybody gets to find out a lot more about her.
‘One of the key things is just physically doing the work so we have a better idea of the episodes Ta-Kr-Hb went through in terms of grave robbers and later collectors in the Victorian times so we can explore these matters more fully and we can share that with the public.’
Conservators Helena Jaeschke and Richard Jaeschke have been working closely with Culture Perth and Kinross on the project, which started work in late January.
Culture Perth and Kinross is campaigning to raise money for the conservation of Ta-Kr-Hb as she prepares to go on display at the Perth City Hall Museum, which is set to open in 2022.