Thursday 9 May 2024

REVEALED IN 2024: Artist's reconstruction of head of mummified Egyptian woman held by Grafton High School for over a century


ABC News, 3 May 2024:

For more than a century, a mummified head inside a northern NSW school has been shrouded in mystery.

But part of that mystery has now been solved.

Since the Grafton High School head featured on ABC RN's Stuff the British Stole last year, forensic experts pieced together details of who this person was.

The information was then used to create a facial reconstruction sculpture, showing what this ancient human would have looked like in great detail.

"[Having] a disembodied remnant of a person, and seeing it come to life through this amazing process … it's been so exciting," Grafton High School history teacher Simon Robertson says.

A head in the library

The mummified head has been residing in the school's air-conditioned library, with only one clue to its backstory.

Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. This is a series about the not-so-polite history behind those objects.

Accompanying the head is a typed note from 1960, saying it was a "genuine example of Egyptian mummification" donated to the school in 1915 by Grafton doctor T.J. Henry.

The note explains that Dr Henry purchased it as a medical student in Edinburgh during the late 1800s — a time when Egyptian artefacts were very much in vogue in the UK.

However, none of this can be substantiated.

Another theory is that it was given to the school by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, a local who became one of the world's foremost Egyptologists in the early 20th century.

Nothing else was known about the remains — the sex, age or if it was even actually Egyptian.

Over the years, the head has been used as an educational tool for ancient history students, but some at Grafton High School saw its presence as problematic.

Mr Robertson says the head "brought out very differing responses in people" from "we need to keep it and look after it" to "'it shouldn't be here … this is a person".

So the school attempted to repatriate the remains to Egypt, and offered them as a donation to a Sydney museum, but say they were rebuffed in both attempts.

The school hit a wall until Stuff the British Stole started investigating — and they got new leads from a CT scan, helping the school answer decades-old questions.

A new chapter

In June 2023, Janet Davey, a forensic Egyptologist from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and Department of Forensic Medicine (DFM) at Monash University, facilitated a CT scan of the head.

Analysis of the scan data by Dr Davey, other experts at VIFM and DFM, and the University of Chieti in Italy confirmed two key elements: That the skull belonged to a female and she had died aged between 50 and 60.

A head in a glass case being CT scanned, with a screen showing a scan of the head.

Meanwhile, flecks of gold leaf attached to the head indicated she lived during Egypt's Greco-Roman period.

"The Greco-Roman period encompasses Alexander the Great, in 332 BCE, past Cleopatra VII, into the Roman occupation and the early Christian period around 395 CE," Dr Davey says.

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