Will the real mummy please step forward: dating ancient Egyptian human remains in Museum collections

  • Sowada, Karin (Primary Chief Investigator)
  • Jacobsen, Geraldine (Primary Chief Investigator)
  • Bertuch, Fiona (Primary Chief Investigator)
  • Jenkinson, Andrew (Primary Chief Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


Human tissue and textile samples were taken from ancient Egyptian mummified human remains held in the Nicholson Museum (now the Chau Chak Wing Museum) at the University of Sydney. Despite having been at the University for 150 years, the bodies had never been radiocarbon dated and thus the dating of the bodies was not known with certainty. Dating the bodies was required to further study the life history of the individuals, the mummification techniques and place the people in their correct historical, social and archaeological context. The research project was supported by a competitive grant from the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering, AINSE Grant AP07/136P, awarded in 2007 to Dr Karin Sowada through Macquarie University.

Key findings

Eight samples were taken from the remains of four individuals and subjected to radiocarbon dating at the ANSTO AMS facility at Lucas Heights in 2008-9. The results revealed that the body in the coffin of Padiashaikhet (NMR.28.1) was nearly 700 years younger than the coffin and did not belong to it; a mummified head of a man NMR.29 dated to the Ptolemaic Period c. 2nd century BC; and a third body (NMR.27.3) dated to c. 12th century BC likewise did not belong to its coffin. Radiocarbon dates from the human remains inside coffin NMR.29 were inconclusive.
Effective start/end date1/12/0713/07/09