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Takabuti, a very strange mummy: he has 33 teeth and an extra vertebra

Earlier this year, scientists discovered the cause of death of Takabuti, a young woman from Egypt who lived nearly 2,700 years ago and whose mummy has been on display since 1835 at a museum in Northern Ireland.

The Egyptian mummy – the body of a young woman in her 20s named Takabuti, who died at the end of the XXVth Dynasty, around 660 BC – is kept at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Head of Takabuti, a young woman with distinguished features. Reddish and wavy hair can be seen. Photo: Ulster Museum

The mummy was bought from Egypt in 1834 by Thomas Greg, an Irish millionaire passionate about Egyptian culture. Greg returned to Belfast with his purchase, which became the first mummy to arrive in Ireland.

There, Egyptologist Edward Hincks was commissioned to study the hieroglyphs covering the mummy’s sarcophagus, which he opened in 1835.

Hincks deciphered the young woman’s name, discovered that she had been married and that her father had been Nespare, an important priest of Amun (or Ammon) in Thebes.

A forgotten crime

In the foreground, Takabuti’s mummy; in the background, the lid of his sarcophagus and, in a display case, a reconstruction of the face of the 20-year-old girl. Photo: Ulster Museum

But, despite these discoveries, the cause of the young woman’s death remained unknown.

The thousand-year-old mystery was only solved in 2020 by a team of researchers from the universities of Manchester and Belfast, the National Museum of Northern Ireland and Kingsbridge Private Hospital: Takabuti was stabbed with a knife in the upper back, close to left shoulder. The wound was fatal.

Analyzes also revealed a strange object inside his body. It turned out to be material used during mummification to seal the wound.

As the says Robert Loynes, honorary professor at the Center for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester, “Takabuti suffered a severe injury to the back of his upper left chest wall. This, with almost absolute certainty, caused his speedy death.”

Too many teeth, too many vertebrae

The scans also revealed an extremely rare trait: Takabuti had 33 teeth. Photo: University of Manchester and RD Loynes

Takabuti’s mummy underwent numerous X-ray and CAT scans, hair analyses, radiocarbon dating and DNA studies. All this revealed a series of bizarre peculiarities.

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For example, the young woman had an extra tooth (33 teeth instead of the usual 32, which only happens in 0.02% of the population), as well as an extra vertebra (another anomaly, which can be seen in only 2 % of the population).

Another unusual feature was noted in the skin, which more closely resembled the skin of Europeans than that of ancient or modern Egyptians. In addition, he had reddish-brown hair, carefully curled.

Foto: About Manchester

“This study adds to our understanding of Takabuti’s death and especially the wider historical context of the era in which he lived. The surprising and important discovery of its European heritage sheds new light on a moment of historical transformation in Egypt,” says Rosalie David, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester, in a Press release published on the university website.

Studies on the mummy led to another discovery of great interest. It is the young woman’s heart, which is found intact in the chest cavity, which surprised the researchers because they thought the organ was not there.

A beautifully painted sarcophagus. Detail of the upper part of the Takabuti sarcophagus. Photo: Ulster Museum

However, the identity of young Takabuti’s killer and the underpinnings of this crime are unknowns that science will probably never elucidate.

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