Brain-removal tool found in ancient mummy's skull

Brain-removal tool found in ancient mummy's skull

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Dec. 19, 2012 at 9:15 a.m.


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ZAGREB, Croatia — Researchers have discovered an ancient brain-removal tool left in the skull of an ancient Egyptian mummy.

The three-inch object was found in the 2,400-year-old body of a 40-year-old woman and was a mystery to researchers when it was first discovered. A team of scientists at the University Hospital Dubrava in Zagreb, Croatia, used CT scans to locate the instrument between the left parietal bone and the back of the woman's skull.

An endoscope was used to detach the tool from the resin that had been used to fill the skull during mummification.

Dr. Mislav Čavka told LiveScience the team "cut it with a clamp through the endoscope and then removed it from the skull." What they found was a 3-inch-long object that would have been inserted through a hole punched in the skull near the nose and used to liquefy and remove the brain.

The tool is one of only two such objects ever discovered in a mummy's skull. Čavka said the discovery is significant because when found outside of a skull, it is difficult to determine if objects were actually used to remove the brain during the mummification process.

A thorough analysis of the stick could not be made due to how brittle the tool is, but botanical experts concluded the tool was made from Monocotyledon plants such as palm or bamboo.

The findings were published in the current issue of the journal RSNA Radiographics. Čavka and his team said in the article one of the most interesting finds came when the team compared their findings to an account of brain removal made by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C.

Brain-removal tool found in ancient mummy's skull
Photo: RSNA RadioGraphics

Herodotus described the workmen as beginning the embalming process by "draw(ing) out part of the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, and inject certain drugs into the rest."

Čavka noted the discovery of the stick suggests an iron hook was not the only means of brain removal, whether for economic reasons or otherwise.

"It is known that mummification was widely practiced throughout ancient Egyptian civilization, but it was a time-consuming and costly practice," the journal article says. "Thus, not every­one could afford to perform the same mummifi­cation procedure."

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Stephanie Grimes

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