The Face Of An Ancient Egyptian Woman Whose Mummified Head Was Sitting In An Australian High School Was Just Recreated By A Forensic Sculptor

Published May 14, 2024
Updated May 15, 2024

Forensic sculptor Jennifer Mann said she came to the "strange realization that I was looking at the face of a real person… She was a human just like me, only we were separated by 2,000 years in time."

Egyptian Mummy Facial Reconstruction

Jennifer MannThe woman likely lived during Egypt’s Greco-Roman period from 332 B.C.E. to to 395 C.E.

For more than a century, Grafton High School in New South Wales, Australia, has had a peculiar object in its library: the head of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy which was kept in a box.

Now, thanks to a new facial reconstruction, the mummy’s face has finally been revealed.

Reconstructing The Head Of This Ancient Egyptian Mummy

The mummy’s head was donated to Grafton High School in 1915, and it’s long been kept in a box in the school’s library. Debates have raged over the last century about what to do with the mummy, but neither Egypt nor local museums in Sydney had any interest in accepting the remains.

Then, a podcast got involved.

Mummy Head In Grafton High School Library

Marc Fennell/XThe mummy head came to the attention of Marc Fennell, the host of the podcast Stuff The British Stole, seen here with the mummy head in 2023.

Stuff The British Stole, a podcast affiliated with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), reported on the mummy’s head in 2023. After the podcast organized a CT scan to learn more about the mummy — which revealed that it had belonged to a woman who died between the ages of 50 and 60 — Grafton High School commissioned a facial reconstruction.

According to ABC, the school enlisted the help of forensic toxicologist Matthew Di Rago, who printed a 3D model of the skull, and forensic sculptor Jennifer Mann, who set out to reconstruct the woman’s face.

Egyptian Mummy Skull

Jennifer MannThe 3D model of the mummy’s skull, which Jennifer Mann used to create the facial reconstruction.

“The dentition on this skull created the most challenges for reconstructing this woman’s face,” Mann told All That’s Interesting in an email.

“There were many teeth missing and the tooth loss had caused massive bone resorption on both the mandible and maxilla… Also the woman was estimated to be aged between 50 and 60 years, so the face needed to be ‘aged’ accordingly, making allowance for sagging skin on the face and neck and loss of fat under the skin around the cheeks and eyes.”

Researchers suspected that the woman had died during Egypt’s Greco-Roman period between 332 B.C.E. and 395 C.E. So Mann used both the skull itself and Greco-Roman art, including the Fayum mummy portraits, to aid in the reconstruction. She also used bronze because they couldn’t be sure of the woman’s skin tone.

“As with all face reconstructions I have done, there was a point in the process when suddenly a face emerged and I had a sudden jolt of realisation that an actual person was staring back at me,” Mann told All That’s Interesting, “someone I hadn’t met before who, at the age of 50-60 years, had lived a relatively long life. From that point onward I thought about who she was and what her life might have been like. She was a human just like me, only we were separated by 2000 years in time.”

The result was breathtaking. When Simon Robertson, a history teacher at the high school, showed other teachers, he said, “Collectively there was an audible gasp. It was like, ‘holy hell, this is amazing’.”

So who was this woman? And how did she ended up at Grafton High School?

Who Was The Woman Behind The Grafton High School Mummy?

Egyptian Mummy Recreation

Jennifer MannMann used bronze for the woman’s head, as her skin tone and eye color is unknown.

According to ABC, the mummy’s path from Egypt to Grafton High School is murky. Two versions of the story exist. The first is that the mummy was donated by a doctor named T.J. Henry, who purchased the remains in the late 1800s while he was studying in Edinburgh. The second suggests that the mummy was donated by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, a renowned Egyptologist.

Without knowing where exactly the mummy came from, learning more about her is challenging. But the recent study of her remains revealed a number of facts. Researchers now know her age (between 50 and 60), when she lived and died (between 332 B.C.E. and 395 C.E), and have a rough idea of her social status. Because of the gold leaf on the mummy’s skull, and because her brain was removed — in a process called excerebration — she likely hailed from a middle or upper class family.

Her origins aside, teachers at Grafton High School hope that students will see her as a person and not just as a mummified head. ABC reports that both the new facial reconstruction — a technique likewise used to recreate the face of King Tut and help solve the mystery of what Cleopatra looked like — as well as the original head will be displayed side-by-side to encourage students to think “critically about who owns the past.”

“I hope that the finished sculpture will mean that people will be interested in her as a person rather than just a mummified head that people sometimes find a little creepy,” Mann told All That’s Interesting. “I hope that this will restore her dignity and allow people to view her in the museum with respect not morbid curiosity.”

After reading about the facial reconstruction of this Egyptian mummy, discover the stories of some of history’s most incredible mummies. Then, discover what life was like in ancient Egypt with this set of astounding facts.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "The Face Of An Ancient Egyptian Woman Whose Mummified Head Was Sitting In An Australian High School Was Just Recreated By A Forensic Sculptor.", May 14, 2024, Accessed May 23, 2024.