The University of Arizona

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

Pascale Richardin, Magali Coudert, Nathalie Gandolfo, Julien Vincent


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.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16146


Radiocarbon dating; hair; Coptic mummies; Antinoe site; Egypt; Louvre museum

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