Researchers have uncovered the real name of a mysterious Egyptian mummy nicknamed Justine.
Justine, who is temporarily on display at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ont., was actually known as Nefret-Mut when she worked as the "chantress" or singer-musician of the Temple of Amun-Re in the city of Thebes in ancient Egypt, 3,000 years ago.
'I hate not to have a name for people.' - Gayle Gibson, Royal Ontario Museum
"She becomes much more alive now," as a result of having her real name known, said Andrew Nelson, the Western University archeologist who revealed the new discovery in a ROM blog post and a public lecture at THEMUSEUM this past weekend.
"Nefret-Mut means "beautiful one of the goddess Mut," said Gayle Gibson, the Toronto Egyptologist who originally nicknamed the mummy Justine and managed to decipher her real name last week. Mut was a powerful mother goddess of sovereignty, and the main goddess of the city of Thebes, where Nefret-Mut lived, Gibson said. She added it was common for people of the time to be named after her, although typically the name was the other way around – Mut-Nefret.
Gibson teaches at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which owns the mummy. She managed to find the name in high-quality photographs taken by ROM technician Bill Pratt of the messy hieroglyphics scrawled on what is believed to be Nefret-Mut's coffin.
"The writing is really sloppy," said Gibson, who worked as an English teacher earlier in her career. "It's like a bad high school kid's writing."
Because of that, she said, Egyptologists don't typically work too hard to decipher writing like that unless they have a good reason. In this case, she had a closer look after a query from Nelson ahead of his talk. He had asked how archeologists knew Justine's occupation.
Paint with name had flaked off
Gibson knew it was on the coffin, but thought she'd better check. Beside the words "the chantress of Amun-Re," the paint had flaked off where her name should have been.
But Gibson managed to find another instance of it elsewhere on the coffin.
"I certainly have never noticed it with my naked eyes," she said. "I think it really helped to have excellent pictures and the nice big modern computer screen."
David Marksell, CEO of THEMUSEUM, said it's "pretty cool for us to have that new information" as an indirect result of the museum's lecture series. The museum borrowed the mummy from the ROM to accompany and add "authenticity" to Unwrapping Egypt, a travelling exhibition featuring replicas of artifacts found in King Tutankhamun's tomb. It runs until February 2015. Nelson's public lecture was part of a series called Egyptian Dialogues that will feature a talk by Gibson this Sunday.
According to Gibson, Nefret-Mut lived during the 22nd Dynasty of ancient Egypt, around 945 B.C., during the rule of King Shesonq I, about 300 years after King Ramses II. It was a period of relative calm after a spate of invasions, anarchy and civil war.
Nefret-Mut would have worked as a singer in something like a church choir.
"Only hers is like a really good Baptist choir, so there would be tambourines and swaying and really exciting, good music, I suspect," said Gibson, based on paintings of activities at the temple.
The chantress would have been part of noisy processions through town during large festivals to encourage people in their homes and at work to join them, Gibson added.
According to THE MUSEUM, the mummy was excavated in 1905 to 1906 by Egyptologist Eduoard Naville. The mummy, along with a man's coffin and a woman's coffin, were later acquired by Charles Trick Currelly, the ROM's first curator. For a long time, no one was quite sure whether the mummy was a man or a woman and which coffin it belonged to.
Gibson thought she was female, due to her small stature and feminine-looking forehead, and named her Justine.
"I hate not to have a name for people."
The nickname was based on ancient Egyptian mythology, which said that when someone died, they were judged by the gods. If they received a good judgment, they were "justified" and could pass off to the next world "in good stead."
Nelson confirmed that Justine was female when he studied it using high-resolution CT scanning to X-ray the mummy, layer by layer, in 2007. Her skeleton clearly revealed the womanly shape of her pelvis.
The scans also revealed the unusual way she had been mummified – her brain had been left in her skull, not removed through her nose as was thought to be the tradition. And her internal organs had all been removed from between her legs, not from her flank.
"The take-home message from that is there is a lot more variability in how mummies were mummified than we tend to think," Nelson said.
Nelson and Gibson hope to study Nefret-Mut more when she returns to the ROM this spring and publish some of the scientific data they have uncovered.
But already, they know quite a lot more about Nefret-Mut than about most mummies in the world, including her origin, her name and her occupation, Nelson said.
"It really makes her quite an important mummy."