A new example of restoration performed by the ancient Egyptian embalmers on a mummified body is reported. Imaging study of the mummy labelled 2343 in the Archaeological Museum of Naples has revealed the substitution of an artificial wood ‘prosthesis’ for missing feet. The mummy probably dates to the Ptolemaic- early Roman Period, when other examples of prosthetic occur.

The imaging study carried out on Egyptian mummies preserved in Italian museums and collections within the framework of the Anubis Project1 has revealed a new and interesting case of restoration made by ancient Egyptian embalmers on a mutilated corpse. The mummy, totally unpublished, is stored at the Archaeological Museum of Naples (inventory number 2343) and is preserved in a not pertinent wooden anthropoid coffin2. The place of origin and year of its discovery are unknown and, even though it is difficult to assign a dating to the mummy, some details, as discussed below, suggest that the mummy can be dated to the Ptolemaic- early Roman Period.
In modern times the bandages have been longitudinally cut from skull to knee, in order to perform a partial external examination.
Radiographically the mummy is that of a 35−40 year-old man and is in a very bad state of preservation.

Fig. 3. Anterior projection of the lower limbs


The body lies on its back, with the arms crossed on the chest, the right hand on the left shoulder and the left hand on the right one. The skull is completely skeletonized and edentulous; the skin of the thorax and abdomen is partially present and of a pitch-black colour. The skull seems to be empty; the ethmoid bone was broken to permit removal of the brain through the nostrils, according to the traditional procedure of excerebration. A slight arthritis involves the odontoid process and the column shows osteoarthritic changes with compression of the fourth lumbar vertebra. Thoracic and abdominal cavities have been filled with earthy material, and a round-shaped package is visible in the pelvis. A severe bilateral coxarthritis has deformed the femural heads. The fracture of the left acetabulum is certainly the result of  post mortem damage. Both menisci are calcified and the left fibula is missing.
A remarkable discovery made during the recent imaging was the revelation of an unsuspected, detached hand placed between the femurs (fig.1). The phalanges, middle phalanges and terminal phalanges seem to be in anatomic connection, but the carpal and metacarpal bones  are scattered around. Since the mummy has both its hands, this third hand certainly belongs to another individual and we can only speculate on how it reached this position.
Despite the intact appearance of the mummified body below the knees, lateral  and anteroposterior X-rays unexpectedly revealed total absence of both feet (figs.2-3). They have been replaced by a single prosthesis in two parts: a rectangular piece of wood resting transversely on the bottom of the coffin and a piece of rather sharply-painted wedge-shaped wood (figs.2−3). The two parts were fixed together by three metal nails set at a uniform distance from each other (fig.3).
The presence of prosthesis on Naples 2343 helps to date the mummy: the practice of ‘restoring’ mummified bodies, replacing missing limbs with dummies, seems to be typical of the Ptolemaic Period.3 After the excellent results reached by the ancient Egyptian embalmers during the New Kingdom and continuing through until the Twenty-first Dynasty, the Twenty-second Dynasty saw the start of a slow decline in the embalming method, which became more marked with time.4 In particular, a greater care is noticeable for the external aspect of the mummies, while the preservation treatments of the corpses themselves are in general neglected.
The creation of ‘false mummies’ is peculiar to the Ptolemaic Period5.
Radiological investigation makes it possible to identify where the anthropomorph wrapping contained a mass of disjointed bones, sometimes belonging to different individuals. Probably in these cases the body of the deceased was destroyed or lost, and the embalmers prepared a false mummy in order to return to the family a corpse for burial.6 In other cases the embalmers used coffins originally created to contain another individual: the limbs were detached and amputated, if the body was too big for the coffin; otherwise bones were added, if the body was too short to fill the available space.7 More relevant to Naples 2343, it was not infrequent that a corpse reached the embalmers laboratory with some part mutilated, for example, the limbs, hands or feet. It was opportune to restore the missing parts with artificial ‘prosthesis’, to give back to the body its original integrity and to permit to the deceased the accomplishment of his journey in the Afterlife with all his attributes.
There are several well-known cases of restoration carried out by the embalmers of the Ptolemaic Period. The more interesting examples and the more similar to Naples 2343 found in the literature will be reported below.8
Mummy 1770 in the Manchester Museum, probably found in Hawara, is that of a fourteen-year-old girl in a poor state of preservation.9 It was at first dated to the Ptolemaic era, but radiocarbon results demonstrated that while the bandaging could be dated to this period, the body itself appears to be some hundred years older.10 The right leg of the girl was amputated at the distal portion of femur, 10 cm above the knee, while the left leg was amputated at the proximal portion of tibia, 10 cm below the knee. Since there is no trace of reparative activity, it is hypothesized that the legs were amputated at the time of death or later.11 The embalmers probably fabricated the missing parts of the mummy with various materials, to return the body, at least exteriorly, to its integrity. The lower part of the left leg was replaced with a piece of wood covered with mud and wrapped in linen. Removal of the bandages around the feet revealed a structure of mud and reeds making up the right foot; an irregular mass of mud substituted for the distal part of the left femur.12
In several cases, the artificial ‘prostheses’ were realized by modelling linen in the form of hands and feet with the aid of resin to confer more resistance to the textiles.
A beautiful example is that of a male mummy of unknown origin, now at the Durham Oriental Museum, dated to the Ptolemaic Period and fitted with an artificial arm. The left forearm and hand are made entirely of cloth, laid around the remaining bones, modelled to simulate wrist, fingers and thumb, and soaked in resin; the structure appears roughly built up, but not unrealistic, with the fingers partly flexed and the thumb extended.13
Four other examples were found in Nubia, in cemetery 24 near Dabod, and are all dated to the Ptolemaic Period.
The mummy 24: 1: K was that of an old man and displayed a linen dummy in the place of the missing right hand.14 A similar solution is shown in the female mummy 24: 1: I, in which both hands were lacking and were replaced with dummies made of linen and resin. In this case the anatomical shape of fingers was only roughly reproduced.15 The mummy 24: 1: L was that of a woman, whose greater part of the right foot and all the bones of both hands were placed in the abdominal cavity, while the radii were inverted, with the lower ends uppermost. The hands and foot were replaced with dummies made entirely of linen16. In a similar example the female mummy 24: 1: U exhibited the tarsal, metatarsal and metacarpal bones scattered in the body cavities, and the radii were again inverted. Dummies made of linen and resin substituted for her feet and more care was given to the correct anatomical shape, with the toes made of pieces of reeds. The hands were replaced with dummies made of linen, resin and a few bones.17 As for the two latest mummies cited, it can be supposed that the extremities had been pulled off and inserted by the embalmers in the body cavities, making necessary for them to intervene with a restoration.
The use of wood to fabricate dummy feet is limited to the mummy 2343 of Naples and to the Manchester mummy 1770, while in the other examples hands and feet have been modelled in linen. It can be supposed that the embalmers preferred to use cloths soaked in resin instead of wood, because it was easier to build up prosthetics and to obtain the desired shape with linen. This hypothesis seem to receive confirmation by the fact that wood, which as well was a more rare and costly material, was employed to made up big and simple anatomical part, such as a leg and both feet; on the contrary, to fabricate single feet and hands, which have a more complicate structure, cloths were constantly preferred.
The kind of intervention performed by the ancient embalmers can provide a well-grounded indication to suggest a dating of the mummy. According to the examined literature, restoration of mutilated corpses by embalmers with the use of dummies seems to be virtually limited to the Ptolemaic Period, although exceptions are attested.18
The hypothesis that the Naples mummy can be dated to the same period is further corroborated by the fact that the body has been treated with a certain carelessness, as shown by the almost complete state of scheletonization in which the corpse was found and particularly by unassociated hand from another body found between the femurs. Another evidence is provided by the position of the arms, which are crossed over the chest; in the Ptolemaic Period the arms lay generally along the sides of the body with the hands on the thighs, while the crossed position is more often seen in Roman times. In any case the excerebration and evisceration performed on Naples 2343, as attested by the radiological exam, exclude a dating later than the II century A.D., when these practices were abandoned. In conclusion the mummy could be reasonably dated to the Ptolemaic-early Roman Period.
It is impossible to be certain how the feet of Naples 2343 were lost. It can be hypothesized that the body was already mutilated when it reached the embalmers’ workshop. In this case the corpse may have been found several days after death, in an advanced state of decomposition. The intervention of necrophagous animals should be excluded, since the distal epiphysis of the tibiae are intact. It seems more likely that the body, lying for an indefinite time without treatment, began to lose its anatomical connection. The distal bones of the feet, the joints of which are known to be weak, were probably the first to be detached, followed by the proximal parts of the feet; the ankle joint is in fact more resistant and requires a longer period to lose its connection.19
Alternatively the loss may have occurred during the mummification process, owing to negligence or scant care on the part of the workers by whom the corpse was treated.
In any case, the embalmers promptly found a remedy for the injury, providing the deceased with the necessary integrity for his Afterlife journey.

* Valentina Giuffra, Gino Fornaciari and Rosalba Ciranni work in Section of Paleopathology, Division of Surgical, Molecular and Ultrastructural Pathology, Department of Oncology, University of Pisa and Pisa University Hospital, Pisa, Italy. The present work was supported by the grant MURST N°.981024672−002: ‘Malattie, salute e condizioni socio-economiche nell’antico Egitto: un progetto multidisciplinare’.

  1. In 2000-2001 the Section of Paleopathology of the University of Pisa, directed by Prof. Gino Fornaciari, and the Section of Egyptology, directed by Prof. Edda Bresciani, carried out a multidisciplinary project, named Anubis; the aim of the project was to study the Egyptian mummies stored in Italian museums, both from the egyptological and paleopathological point of view. A team of researchers travelled around Italy, visiting the museums where the Egyptian human remains were collected. This material, mostly still unpublished, was properly surveyed and catalogued; the X-rays were performed in situ, using a portable X-ray apparatus Minibloc 100/70. See R. Ciranni, D. Pangoli, V. Giuffra, D. Caramella, E. Bresciani, F. Silvano and G. Fornaciari, THE ANUBIS PROJECT. An Inventory and Paleopathological Study of the Egyptian Mummies Collected in Italian Museums, Paleopathol Newsl 129 (march 2005), 6-11; R. Ciranni, D. Pangoli, V. Giuffra, D. Caramella, E. Bresciani, F. Silvano and G. Fornaciari, Paleopathological Study of the Egyptian Mummies Collected in Italy: the Anubis Project, Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research 80/1 (2005), 255-57.
  2. The mummy is not cited in the Catalogue of the Museum of Naples: S. De Caro (ed.), La Collezione egiziana del Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Napoli, 1989); a photograph of the entire mummy is not available.
  3. P. H. K. Gray, ‘Embalmers’ ‘Restorations’’, JEA 52 (1966), 138−40.
  4. S. Ikram and A. Dodson, The Mummy in Ancient Egypt (London, 1998),118−30.
  5. The reference is here to human ‘false mummies’, but in the Graeco-Roman Period, when the use of votive animal mummies flourished, examples of animal ‘false mummies’, composed of cloth, feathers, odd bones, brick or pottery, are also frequent; these fakes were perfectly wrapped and then sold as true mummies to pilgrims.
  6. Dunand and Lichtenberg, Les momies et la mort en Égypte (paris, 1998), 101.
  7. Gray, JEA 52, 138.
  8. The Leiden mummy AMM 14a, belonging to a child of uncertain sex and dated to the end of the Ptolemaic or the Roman Period, cannot longer be cited here as an example of prosthetic. According to the Gray examination (see P. H. K. Gray, Radiological Aspects of the Mummies of Ancient Egyptians in the Rijksmuseum Van Oudheden, Leiden (Leiden, 1966), mummy n.24, 25-6, pls. xxi.1−2, xxx.3) both hands were clearly dummies, but the new catalogue of the Leiden mummies withdraws this interpretation, showing that the mummy in question does not have dummy hands. See M. Raven – W. K. Taconis, Egyptian Mummies: Radiological Atlas of the Collections in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden (Turnhout, 2005), 169.
  9. I. Isherwood , H. Jarvis and R. A. Fawcitt, ‘Radiology of the Manchester Mummies’, in A. R. David (ed.), Manchester Museum Mummy Project (Manchester, 1979), 32.
  10. Isherwood , Jarvis and Fawcitt, in David (ed.), Manchester, 146.
  11. Isherwood, Jarvis and Fawcitt, in David (ed.), Manchester, 53, fig. 28.
  12. E. Tapp, ‘The Unwrapping of 1770’, in A. R. David (ed.), Science in Egyptology (Manchester, 1986), 53−5.
  13. Gray, JEA 52.
  14. G. E. Smith and F. Wood-Jones, Report on the Human Remains, Archaeological Survey of Nubia for 1907−1908, II (Cairo, 1910), 214; Gray, JEA 52, 138.
  15. Smith and Wood-Jones, Report II, 214; Gray, JEA 52, 139.
  16. Smith and Wood-Jones, Report II, 214; Gray, JEA 52, 138.
  17. Smith and Wood-Jones, Report II, 214; Gray, JEA 52, 139.
  18. See for example the case of a right big toe prosthesis in a female mummy from Thebes dated back to the XXI dynasty: W. A. Wagle, Toe Prosthesis in an Egyptian Human Mummy, American Journal of Radiology 162 (1994), 999-1000.
  19. H. Duday, ‘L’antropologia ‘sul campo’, una nuova dimensione dell’archeologia della morte’, in F. Mallegni and M. Rubini (eds.), Recupero dei materiali scheletrici umani in archeologia (Rome, 1994), 99


Fig. 1. X-ray of the femurs with the right hand not pertinent to the body visible




Fig. 2. Lateral projection of the lower limbs; the missing feet are replaced with a wooden ‘prosthesis’.