3,000-year-old fingerprints found on Egyptian mummy

3,000-year-old fingerprints found on Egyptian mummy

Craftsmen touched varnish before it had dried on inner coffin lid made for chief of scribes at Thebes temple

Egyptian coffins in the Fiztwilliam Museum collection (screen capture: YouTube)
Egyptian coffins in the Fiztwilliam Museum collection (screen capture: YouTube)

Fingerprints that are 3,000 years old, apparently left by craftsmen who touched varnish before it had dried, have been found on an Egyptian mummy, the BBC reported.

The discovery, made by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, was made public to promote the opening on Tuesday of Death on the Nile, an exhibition focusing on Egyptian coffin design over 4,000 years.

The fingerprints were revealed on an inner coffin lid dating back to 1,000 BC and belonging to a priest named Nespawershefyt, or Nes-Amun, chief of scribes of the temple of Amun-Re at Thebes.

They came to light during coffin examinations, including X-rays and CT scans, to study how ancient Egyptian coffins were made.

Helen Strudwick, an Egyptologist at Fitzwilliam Museum, told CNN that the prints had been “left by craftsmen who made a mistake and touched it before the varnish dried. The discovery was made in 2005, but has not been publicized so far.

“The coffins show the skill and care with which the Egyptians prepared for the afterlife,” added Strudwick, who co-curated the show. “To us, for whom death is a taboo subject, this seems like a morbid preoccupation. In fact, it was an obsession with life and an urgent wish to ensure its perfected continuation.”

Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the museum, explained in a statement that “the inner coffin box is made up of a multitude of pieces of wood, including sections from at least one older coffin,” CNN reported.

“Evidence of reuse includes cuts across old dowel holes, patching to change the profile of the coffin sides and a number of places where old mortise holes have been filled in and new ones cut beside them. Wood was a precious commodity and the craftsmen were incredibly skilled at making these complex objects from sometimes unpromising starting materials.”

The museum’s website says that the new exhibition endeavors to go beyond the images of pharaohs and pyramids to explore the whole business of death, including the materials, tools and techniques employed to make coffins.

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