It should not be so hard to tell a woman from a man. Yet three of the five male mummies from the Brooklyn Museum that were CT-scanned in the last eighteen months at North Shore University Hospital were at one time thought to be women. One of the clearest benefits of the recent CT-scans performed on Brooklyn’s mummies was clarification of their sex. Why were they once thought to be women? These determinations were made on the basis of bad grammar, bad x-rays, and bad judgment.
Demetris entered the Brooklyn Museum collection in 1911. He lived in the first century C.E. when many Egyptians had Greek names, the result of Alexander the Great’s conquest in the fourth century B.C.E. Demetris was thought to be a woman because his name—written on his linen wrappings—ended in “is,” a feminine grammatical ending in classical Greek. Scholars early in the twentieth century thought that a man could only be named “Demetrius.” One early curator commented that Demetris’ portrait represented a particularly “homely” woman. Later x-rays proved that he was anatomically male and showed he was an example of a particular Egyptian custom of Greek, male names ending in “is.”
Thothirdes’ masculinity was questioned because of bad x-rays. In spite of the beard of Osiris on his coffin, in spite of his red face—a trait traditionally associated with portrayals of Egyptian men—an x-ray very early in the twentieth century suggested to an early curator that he was “clearly female.” The most recent CT-scan showed, on the contrary, that Thothirdes is unquestionably anatomically male. This is a particular relief since it means that his beard and red face make better sense.
Finally, “The Lady Hor” was identified as female because of her lovely face, “clearly feminine” in the judgment of an early curator. Again the face was red, but the lack of a beard on the cartonnage coffin and the face’s delicacy was taken as proof that Hor was a woman.
The CT-scan, however, left no doubt that he was a man. Sometimes judgment alone is too subjective to make this determination.
As a curator, I now miss the opportunity to compare male and female mummification practices in Brooklyn’s galleries. But I hope that we have now settled this issue for good.
Edward Bleiberg is Curator of Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art at the Brooklyn Museum. He joined the museum in 1998 after 13 years teaching Egyptian hieroglyphs and directing the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at the University of Memphis. A native of Pittsburgh, he graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School and Haverford College. After graduate work at Yale University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he earned an MA and Ph.D. in Egyptology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of books and articles on the ancient Egyptian economy, Egyptian coffins, and the Jewish minority in ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. Dr. Bleiberg has curated Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt, Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire, and Pharaohs, Queens and Goddesses in Brooklyn. He is currently preparing To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum a traveling exhibition on Egyptian burial customs opening in June, 2008. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.