Hen in the CAT scan machine at Crouse Hospital in December 2017 (photo by Jason Emerson)
Some preliminary results are in from tests done last December on Hen, the Cazenovia Public Library’s 2,000-year-old mummy, at Crouse Hospital — and some new facts have emerged.
While the tests — CAT scans, and lung and leg bone and tissue biopsies — did not reveal as much new information as was hoped, results so far have unearthed some new facts about Hen’s life and death, including his general health and some of the burial ceremonies and rituals done after his death.
“In a nutshell, everything is plus-minus: We found some new things, but we can’t prove the things we found are what we say they are to everybody’s satisfaction,” said Dr. Mark Levinsohn, of Fayetteville, a retired Crouse Hospital radiologist who led the testing project. “I wanted to prove beyond anybody’s doubt that these things are what we think they are … but this has not been a waste of time at all.”
Hen came to Cazenovia in 1894, the gift of resident Robert J. Hubbard, as an addition to the library museum. Hubbard — who donated the current library building in 1890 specifically to be the community library and museum — purchased the mummy in Cairo, Egypt while he was on tour in that country.
The mummy, along with numerous other ancient Egyptian artifacts that make up the library’s Egypt Room, became a major, and famous, part of the Cazenovia Public Library and Museum, and even today is a staple of educational visits by regional high school students, tourists and locals bringing in out-of-town visitors.
In March 2006, Hen was taken to Crouse Hospital to undergo a CAT scan that created a three-dimensional hologram of the body inside the ancient wrappings — an image that is currently on display at the Cazenovia Public Library as part of the overall mummy exhibit — as well as the discovery of what appeared to be a cancerous tumor in his left leg.
The new set of tests done last December were done in an effort to see if updated technology could reveal new and previously unknown aspects of Hen’s life and death — particularly about the tumor in his leg and the prevalence of the cancer in his body.
While the new CAT scans are much crisper and clearer than those from 2006, Levinsohn said the results of the lung and leg biopsies, unfortunately, were not conclusive.
The growth in the knee bone that Levinson believes was cancer could not be identified as cancer without a doubt because the tumor was so broken down the cells were “no longer identifiable,” Levinson said. The same was true of the lung and thigh samples: the histologist said he just could not come to any specific conclusions from the 2,000-year-old tissue.
More tests are still underway, however, to see if it can be ascertained if Hen had tuberculosis or the spot in his lung was some type of cancer. The biopsied tissue is also being sent to Switzerland for DNA testing to see if any new information can be gleaned from it in that way, Levinsohn said. “Although I’d be surprised if we get anything,” he added.
There were some new discoveries about Hen, however. Levinsohn said he found what he believes to be a ceramic scarab, about one-half to three-quarters of an inch in size, inside the mummy wrapping just above Hen’s knee. Scarabs were considered good luck or bringers of healing to the ancient Egyptians “to act as little patchwork items – they would patch things up as mummy getting ready for the next world,” Levinsohn said. So to have placed a scarab near his knee seems to bolster the idea that Hen had knee problems, possibly cancer, he said.
While it was discovered in 2006 that Hen had what appears to be a statue inside his chest cavity, the new scans showed numerous white specks on the statue’s image, which Levinsohn believes show either paint or perhaps even writing. “I’m convinced that [statue] represents the god Horus,” he said.
Also found on the new scans was the fact that Hen has severely deformed feet, with excessively high arches and hammer toes. Levinsohn said this condition is probably what is now known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disorder, a neurological abnormality of the feet.
What it means is that Hen would have probably not had the ability to lift his toes as he swung each foot going back to forward. “He would have had trouble walking and you would have noticed it when he walked,” Levinsohn said. “He probably walked very stiff-legged.”
While this new series of tests did not definitively prove Hen had or died of cancer or tuberculosis, it did increase the amount of knowledge already obtained on the mummy, Levinsohn said. “We doubled our findings [since 2006], so that’s positive,” he said. “To me, it’s a little disappointing we couldn’t prove these things, but on other hand we were asking a lot of medical science to prove something from a 2,000-year-old specimen.”
Levinsohn is now waiting for the remaining test results to come back, and then he and Dr. Daniel Warne, an Egyptologist at Onondaga Community College, will co-write a scientific paper on the results of the 2017 study and, it is expected, will present the complete findings to the Cazenovia community in a public talk.
Cazenovia Public Library Director Betsy Kennedy said a talk will likely occur in late May or early June.
“I would just like to again thank Crouse hospital, all the doctors, nurses, scientists, coroner’s office, everyone who helped with this. Their generosity has been remarkable,” Kennedy said. “The more we know about Hen and his life, the more personable he is and the more we can show on our tours and to the kids who come through.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.