The Goucher Mummy

By
Margaret Swaney
Meg Swaney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University studying Egyptian Art and Archaeology. She also holds a master's degree in Museum Studies from New York University ('13), where her research focused on the ethics of displaying Egyptian mummies, as well as a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago ('11).
and
Sanchita Balachandran
Sanchita Balachandran is the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She teaches courses related to the identification and analysis of ancient manufacturing techniques of objects, as well as the history, ethics and practice of museum conservation.

Goucher_facial_depiction_grayscale_with_ALL_logosThis ancient Egyptian woman lived approximately 2400 years ago. Computed tomography (CT) scanning revealed she may have undergone a period of malnutrition or illness when she was young and her bones were still developing, as there are growth arrest lines on her leg bones. As an adult, she stood approximately 5 feet 4 inches in height. Certain features of her skull indicate she is a female, and markers on her pelvis suggest she had at least two children. Several areas of her body feature strong muscle attachments, indicating she may have engaged in physical labor during her lifetime. Her teeth are in good condition, but show significant wear, which is common for ancient Egyptians whose food was often contaminated with sand. While there are no indications of her cause of death, she appears to have died when she was 45-50 years old, an average lifespan for an ancient Egyptian. CT scans also revealed information about her mummification: as was typical of this preservation process during this time period, her brain was extracted and discarded, and her organs were removed, embalmed, and then returned to her abdomen. A facial reconstruction based on her bone structure gives a sense of what she may have looked like. Her features show a mixture of typical European/Caucasian and sub-Saharan characteristics, which is common in ancient Egyptians due to the population diversity in this time period.

This individual is currently named the “Goucher mummy” because she was purchased in Egypt in 1895 by Dr. John Goucher, Methodist Reverend and educator, for exhibition at the Woman’s College of Baltimore. Newspaper reports document Goucher’s attempt to unwrap the mummy but the thick layers of resin used in her embalming made it difficult to remove her linen wrappings. Subsequent attempts to unwrap her have resulted in her current partially-exposed condition. After being exhibited at the Woman’s College (1895-1938), she was displayed at the Baltimore Museum of Art (1938-1971), and then returned to Goucher College, by which time her identity as an ancient woman had been lost. Her remains were entrusted to the JHU museum on long-term loan in 1988, the same year initial CT work re-identified her as a woman.

Learn more about the Goucher mummy’s long history in Baltimore, including information about her acquisition, medical examination in the late 1980s and her conservation in the early 21st century on our site. 

 

  • Painted Cartonnage ca. 4th c. BCE