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Takabuti – unwrapping her hidden history

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Thanks to recent research by a multi-disciplinary team from Queen’s University, Belfast; University of Manchester; Kingsbridge Private Hospital, Belfast; Liverpool John Moores University and staff from National Museums NI we now know so much more about Takabuti.

As the full range of test results becomes available, and as the interpretation of these results continues, who knows what other secrets will be uncovered?

We are grateful to the Friends of the Ulster Museum for funding much of the new research.

Please note this collections story contains partial images of and information about human remains.

Who was Takabuti?

Who was Takabuti?

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How did she die?

How did she die?

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Takabuti’s Age

Takabuti’s Age

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Takabuti’s Autopsy

Takabuti’s Autopsy

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Takabuti’s hair

Takabuti's hair

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What did she look like?

What did she look like?

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What happened after she died?

What happened after she died?

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Takabuti’s heart

Takabuti’s heart

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Who was Takabuti?

Dr Robert Loynes, KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, Manchester, sampling bone and tissue for analysis.
Dr Robert Loynes, KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, Manchester, sampling bone and tissue for analysis.
Scanning taking place in the Ulster Museum
Scanning taking place in the Ulster Museum

The mummified body of a young woman from Thebes, in ancient Egypt, arrived in Belfast in 1834. Her coffin was opened and some of the bandages unwrapped. A study of the hieroglyphic writing on the coffin revealed the name – Takabuti

Through Takabuti we get a glimpse of the rich and vibrant culture of ancient Egypt and a story which continues to fascinate generations of visitors.

Image: Takabuti’s remains were shown in a number of locations in Belfast before being on permanent display in the Ulster Museum.
Takabuti’s remains were shown in a number of locations in Belfast before being on permanent display in the Ulster Museum.
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How did she die?

Takabuti was stabbed, with considerable force, in the back of her upper left shoulder resulting a wound around 5.6 cm in length (circled). It fractured several ribs and was the cause of death, suggesting she was murdered.

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X-rays and scans show ‘packing’ in the area of this injury. A substance, likely to be ‘resin’, was used to fill and close the hole in her body (circled). Perhaps it was applied after she died, to protect or cure the wound in preparation for the afterlife.

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Egypt suffered attacks and invasions during the 7th century BC. This included the major city of Thebes, which was destroyed in 663 BC. Perhaps Takabuti lived and died in these troubled times.

Takabuti’s Age

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Takabuti was between 20 to 30 years old when she died. This estimation of her age is arrived by the fact that her joints show no signs associated with aging or disease, such as arthritis and by looking at her teeth (circled).

Generally these are in excellent condition with the exception of one cavity (circled) and a usual extra tooth in her lower jaw (see arrow).

Previous research suggested that Takabuti may have lived during the 25th dynasty (722-655 BC) but radiocarbon dates from her hair give a slightly wider date range, so it is difficult to be certain.

Takabuti’s Autopsy

In addition to the stab wound in her upper left back, damage to her left hand (circled) probably occurred when the body was being prepared for burial. Parts of her missing fingers are located inside her chest.

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There is a major break of her spine in the area of the lower back (circled). This is likely to have happened at the time of her first examination and unwrapping in Belfast (1835)

Takabuti’s hair

The hair was in excellent preservation, being very fine, about 3 ½ inches long, forming ringlets like those of children, and of a deep auburn shade’.

This was the actual description of Takabuti’s hair when the body was unrolled and examined on 27 January 1835 when the sample below was taken. The colour auburn is a reddish brown.

Image: A ringlet taken from Takabuti in 1835. If you look carefully at the hand writing you can see that the first translation of her name was Kabooti, this was later revised to Takabuti.
A ringlet taken from Takabuti in 1835. If you look carefully at the hand writing you can see that the first translation of her name was Kabooti, this was later revised to Takabuti.

Takabuti hair is not of the colour or type normally associated with Egyptian women. Most Egyptian women wore wigs and had their heads shaved, to avoid lice, but Takabuti was different. While most mummies’ heads were shaved at the time of death, Takabuti’s hair was cut, curled and gelled. It remains amazingly well preserved.

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It is difficult to be sure of the original colour of Takabuti’s hair. This has faded over time and can look different with varying lighting conditions. More recent analysis of her hair suggests it was most likely to be dark brown.

What did she look like?

Image: © Facial depiction courtesy of Face Lab at Liverpool John Moores University
© Facial depiction courtesy of Face Lab at Liverpool John Moores University

Takabuti’s DNA was sampled from her spine. Early analysis of the DNA inherited from her mother suggests that her ancestors may not have always lived in Egypt but could have come from elsewhere.

A previous attempt to reconstruct the face of Takabuti needs revised in the light of this new evidence and taking into account Takabuti’s distinct hair style and colour. Staff at Liverpool John Moores University have provided this most recent image.

What happened after she died?

When Takabuti was mummified, all her major organs were removed. Most of her brain tissue is gone. It was normally taken out through the nose or eye sockets but these areas are not damaged. Instead, the brain appears to have been removed through the base of the skull. The shape of the head and neck was carefully restored after doing so.

Image: Scan of Takabuti’s head. The circled area shows the remains of brain tissue in the back of her skull.
Scan of Takabuti’s head. The circled area shows the remains of brain tissue in the back of her skull.

The sockets, which once contained Takabuti’s eyes, are now packed with linen.

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Scans revealed traces of the eyelids and eyeball. The eyeball was sliced open and the socket packed with linen.

Takabuti’s heart

We previously thought that Takabuti’s heart was missing - but remarkably it has survived (circled) As part of the original mummification process it was removed, then wrapped and replaced, ready for Takabuti to enter the afterlife.

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Image: This drawing is from the Book of the Dead (19th dynasty, 1292-1191 BC). It shows the Weighing of the Heart Ceremony of a royal scribe named Hunefer, who wears a white robe. © British Museum
This drawing is from the Book of the Dead (19th dynasty, 1292-1191 BC). It shows the Weighing of the Heart Ceremony of a royal scribe named Hunefer, who wears a white robe. © British Museum

Egyptians considered the heart (circled) to be the most important organ of the body. The heart was your ticket to the afterlife. It was placed on a set of scales and weighed against the Feather of Truth.

If you had lived a bad life the heart would be too heavy and the scales would not balance. The demon Ammit, with the head of a crocodile, the body of a lion and the rear of a hippopotamus (seen here opposite the heart) would eat the hearts of anyone who failed the test. If this happened, your quest for eternal life had failed.