Friday, 7 November 2014




Although Nefret-Mut has been ‘living’ inside the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) for many decades, she had previously been known by her nickname, ‘Justine’. However, recent research by Egyptologists at the ROM and archaeologists at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) has revealed the mummy’s real name and occupation. Andrew Nelson and his team at UWO used CT scans to analyze the mummified body to get a better idea of who ‘Justine’ could have been. This coffin was excavated in Egypt around 1905 and acquired by Sir Charles Currelly, the first curator at the ROM. At the time the coffin was acquired, no one was quite sure whether the mummified body inside belonged to a man or a woman. However, modern technology allowed the mummy’s life to be re-analyzed to get a better idea of who they were. The CT scans performed by Nelson’s team let them look at the body without removing any layers of wrapping. The scans led them to confirm that ‘Justine’ was a woman based on the shape of her pelvis. They also revealed the diversity in mummification practices as her tongue was removed, but her brain was left insid her skull. Usual mummification practices involved removing the brain, but leaving the tongue intact so the person would be able to introduce themselves in the after-life.

Discovering ‘Justine’s’ real name was the work of ROM Egyptologist, Gayle Gibson. Gibson had kindly nicknamed the mummy ‘Justine’ (meaning justified or in good favour with the gods at their time of death) because she hated the idea of people not having a name. It was her careful examination that led her to discover the name ‘Nefret-Mut’. Through analyzing the messy hieroglyphics on the coffin and looking at high-resolution images – she was able to decipher the woman’s name and discovered that she was likely a singer or chantress at the temple of Amun-Re. The name Nefret-Mut was a reference to Mut, the goddess of Thebes. According to Gibson, her name would have translated to “beautiful one of the goddess Mut”.

The messy hieroglyphics on Nefret-Mut's coffin made it difficult to decipher her name and determine whether she was a woman or a man

Unlike Nefret-Mut, many other mummies may never have any aspects of their lives known. In contrast to the extravagant burial processes of the Pharaohs, Nefret-Mut’s mummification and burial was not made elaborate or with any expectation that she would be remembered. Although some visitors may sometimes view mummified bodies as ‘objects’ in museums, both Nelson and Gibson looked to discover the person who Nefret-Mut was and to present what can be known and understood about her life. It has taken nearly 3,000 years for Nefret-Mut’s proper name to be restored, which has certainly qualified her to be regarded as a ‘Person of Note'

A facial reconstruction of Nefret-Mut near the time of her near (est. late 20s, early 30s) by forensic artist, Victoria Lywood. 

Nefret-Mut is current on display in Unwrapping Egypt at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ontario.

1 comment:

  1. Katie, what a great story about the making of a story! I think objects are much more "familiar" in museums, especially when such objects are historically disconnected from contemporary realities, when they incorporate a narratives with which we can relate. Not to mention when they have a contemporary name, such as Justine (or Nefret-Mut).