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Radiocarbon Dating of Mummified Human Remains: Application to a Series of Coptic Mummies from the Louvre Museum

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2016

Pascale Richardin*
Affiliation:
Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, C2RMF, Palais du Louvre, Porte des Lions, 14 quai François Mitterrand, 75001 Paris, France
Magali Coudert
Affiliation:
Service du Récolement des Dépôts Antiques et des Arts de l'Islam (SRDAI), Musée du Louvre, Pavillon Mollien, 75001 Paris, France
Nathalie Gandolfo
Affiliation:
Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, C2RMF, Palais du Louvre, Porte des Lions, 14 quai François Mitterrand, 75001 Paris, France
Julien Vincent
Affiliation:
Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, C2RMF, Palais du Louvre, Porte des Lions, 14 quai François Mitterrand, 75001 Paris, France
*
2Corresponding author. Email: pascale.richardin@culture.gouv.fr.

Abstract

Many French museums keep in their reserves a great number of mummified human remains. Beyond any ethical or deontological issues, they constitute an important part of our archaeological and historical heritage. Their dating is often inexact and imprecise, but nevertheless this parameter is very interesting, especially if correlated or associated with other analytical or typological data, e.g. the process of mummification. The present study has been carried out in the context of a multidisciplinary scientific program on a set of Coptic mummies found at the site of Antinoe (Egypt), deposited in the Louvre Museum or sent by the state to various other French museums. To minimize the sample size, we have developed a new method for the pretreatment of hair samples before accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating. Thus, we have taken samples from ≃30 mummies, distributed in 8 museums around France, and also from different textiles or plants near or on the bodies. The results and conclusions show the importance of dating mummies in a museum context. For example, 14C dates permit the exclusion of the assumed relationship of a woman with a child. Similarly, a hair sample from the head of a mummy presents a very different 14C date from that of the hair across her chest. The results show that these hairs came from another mummy and were probably placed there intentionally by the people in charge of the collections.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2013 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona 

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