Researchers reconstruct the face of Nebiri, an Ancient Egyptian dignitary who lived almost 3,500 years ago


A few days, we harped about the successful Ancient Egyptian armies of the New Kingdom period. Well this time around, researchers have been able to endow a ‘face’ based on actual historicity to the period, with the reconstruction of Nebiri, an Ancient Egyptian dignitary who lived during the time of the 18th dynasty, corresponding to the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC).

Now in terms of news, Nebiri became ‘famous’ around two years ago because his mummy specimen showcased the oldest ever case of chronic heart failure due to atherosclerosis (along with severe gum disease). But beyond modern reports, there is almost a sense of poetic justice when it comes to the history and reconstruction of Nebiri’s mummy. To put things into context, Nebiri possibly died at the age of 45 to 60, and was buried in the Valley of the Queens (or Ta-Set-Neferu in Egyptian). However his tomb was desecrated and looted in antiquity itself, while his body was intentionally damaged by the plunderers. The remnants of his mummy were re-discovered in 1904 and subsequently housed at the Egyptian Museum in Turin.


The mummified head of Nebiri. Credit: Francesca Lallo

But in spite of such a regrettable fate of Nebiri’s mummy, it is modern forensic technology that has aided in ‘reviving’ the physical attributes of his face, thus once again bringing back the Ancient Egyptian dignitary to the historical limelight. To that end, the facial reconstruction was achieved by using computed tomography along with other techniques. And the result translates to the facial recreation of a man in his 50’s with well defined jaw bones, seemingly prominent nose and slightly thick lips. Philippe Charlier, a forensic pathologist and physical anthropologist at the University of Paris 5, said (in an interview with Live Science) –

The reconstruction is nice, but this is not just art in my eyes. It is a serious forensic work based on the latest techniques of facial reconstruction and soft tissues over skull superposition. Beyond beauty, there is anatomical reality.


Interestingly enough, while Nebiri’s tomb was desecrated in the ancient times, his head is often viewed as a good example of ‘perfect packing’ in the ancient Egyptian times, according to a paper published in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology. In fact, a CT scan has already revealed how the mummified head was preserved with the help of linen bandages that were carefully inserted in the nasal area, eyes and the mouth. An analysis made in 2013 showcased how these bandages were meticulously treated with a concoction comprising a balsam or aromatic plant, a coniferous resin, heated Pistacia resin and finally animal fat (or plant-based oil). Raffaella Bianucci, a bioanthropologist in the Legal Medicine Section at the University of Turin, and one of researchers involved in the project (and study) said –

The meticulous packing created a barrier to protect the body from insect colonization. At the same time, it had a cosmetic purpose, allowing the facial features and neck to maintain their original lifelike appearance.


Judging by the precise level of preservation, one can draw the conclusion that Nebiri belonged to the elite class of the Egyptian society. To that end, researchers have already noted how his embalming scope was similar to that of the Egyptian couple Yuya and Thuya, who were found to be the grandparents of Tutankhamen. Regarding the ancient ‘packing’ practice, Robert Loynes, a researchers at the KNH Center for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester in England, and one of the first authors of the paper, mentioned –

It’s a unique finding that predates the developments seen in later 18th to 20th Dynasty kings, queens and kin.

He also added –

The brain reconstruction was produced from the Dicom file of the CT scan and, therefore, could be reproduced on any other mummy which had been CT scanned.


Valley of the Queens. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Source: LiveScience

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