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Replication of ancient Egyptian osteotomies of the facial skeleton: insights into the mummification process

  • Z.S. Peacock
    Correspondence
    Address: Zachary S. Peacock, Massachusetts General Hospital, Warren 1201, 55 Fruit St., Boston, MA 02114, USA. Tel: +1 6177262740; Fax: +1 6177266195.
    Affiliations
    Departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Neurosurgery, and Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
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  • P.H. Chapman
    Affiliations
    Departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Neurosurgery, and Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
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  • R. Gupta
    Affiliations
    Departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Neurosurgery, and Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
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  • L.B. Kaban
    Affiliations
    Departments of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Neurosurgery, and Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
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      Abstract

      A recent radiographic study of an Egyptian mummified head from the Middle Kingdom revealed methodical mutilations of the facial skeleton that were performed after death and prior to wrapping the corpse for burial. These mutilations consisted of removal of the coronoid processes of the mandible and portions of the zygomas presumably via an intraoral approach. They are unique in the archaeological record. The authors hypothesize that the procedures were carried out to facilitate jaw opening and may be related to a ritual known as the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony. The purpose of this study was to demonstrate the feasibility of performing these remarkable osteotomies on two human cadavers using instruments similar to those available to the ancient embalmer. Bilateral osteotomies of the zygomas and coronoid processes were carried out transorally and the bones removed. Pre- and postoperative maximal incisal opening measured 25 mm and 53 mm, respectively. Postoperative high-resolution computed tomographic (CT) scans were obtained. Comparison of the postoperative cadaver and mummy CT scans demonstrate remarkable similarity between the resections. Results of this study demonstrate that the ancient skeletal mutilations could have been performed transorally during the mummification process and would have enhanced jaw opening.

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