Safeguarding a body of evidence

researching and conserving naturally-mummified human remains

Project team


Supported by

  • The Clothworkers Foundation

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A group of over 40 naturally-mummified medieval bodies was recently recovered from cemeteries in the Middle Nile Valley as a result of rescue excavations by the Fourth Nile Cataract Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project. Dating from the sixth to sixteenth centuries AD, the consistently dry burial conditions have preserved not only the skeleton but also the soft tissues of the bodies together with their wrappings.

This project aims to preserve the group using methods that will not inhibit present or future analytical methods. Research is helping us to find the best stabilisation techniques and the most appropriate and practical storage materials. The knowledge gained will be passed on to others who have responsibility for similar collections.

The condition of the bodies varies from excellent, although always fragile, to very poor with little remaining other than the skeleton. A 2010 preliminary survey had showed the presence of skin, hair, body decoration, as well as associated wrappings of varied textiles, sheepskins (one fleece dyed bright blue) and leather amulets.

Areas of interest for further investigation are being noted and explored with the intention of future development.

The project has benefited from a number of conservation studentships, focussing on the examination, treatment and improved rehousing of the bodies.

The project aims to:

  • Stabilise the group so that it can be more fully studied, including CT scanning;
  • Gain a better understanding of storage materials to improve the care of fragile human remains and similarly vulnerable material;
  • Develop thoughtful and practical preservation and support methods;
  • Build links with other institutions with similar collections;
  • Disseminate results to interested groups;
  • Produce a survey form adapted to human remains with soft tissue and varied associated material.