A book in exchange for a mummy. The transaction was a good one for Dom Pedro II, a scholar of ancient Egyptian culture. The emperor gave a book about Brazil to Khedive Ismail, at the time a local sovereign, and then, between 1876 and 1877 during his second trip to Egypt, received a sealed casket in return. Inside the coffin, which is made of brightly colored plastered wood, lay the mummy of a singer-priestess dedicated to the god Amun in Karnak, in the vicinity of Thebes (now Luxor). The woman died at about age 50 during the 22nd dynasty, around 750 B.C.
The coffin of Sha-Amun-em-su, that means “the verdant fields of Amun,” was kept in the private office of Dom Pedro II in the imperial palace of Quinta da Boa Vista, in Rio de Janeiro, until 1889. After the proclamation of the Republic, the mummy was added to the Egyptian collection of the National Museum, which since 1892 has occupied the former residence of the Brazilian royal family, now the property of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
Although it has never been opened, the casket has become a valuable source of information about the funeral customs adopted by the Egyptians in order to guarantee their singers-priestesses a pleasant existence in the afterlife.
With the aid of X-ray computerized tomography examinations (X-ray CT) that allow a three-dimensional view of the internal structures preserved for 2,800 years inside the coffin, a team headed by archeologist Antonio Brancaglion Junior, curator of the Egyptian collection at the National Museum, recently discovered that the singer’s throat seems to have been covered by a bandage and resin. Apparently those responsible for the mummification of Sha-Amun-em-su were anxious to protect a body part that is vital for someone who had raised her voice in sacred rituals, a skill that, according to the religion of ancient Egyptians, would also be useful to her in the afterlife.
The tomography of Sha-Amun-em-su performed by radiologist Iugiro Kuroki under the guidance of paleopathologist Sheila Mendonça, from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), at a private clinic in Rio de Janeiro, also showed that amulets had been placed in the coffin. These included the scarab-heart, a symbol associated with resurrection of the dead. Composed of an oval green stone set in a flat piece of gold that hangs as a pendant from a cord that is also golden, the scarab bears the name of the deceased, written in hieroglyphics. It was placed either on the heart of the mummy or, if the heart had been removed during the embalming process, in the place where the heart would have been
On September 2, 2018, a disaterous fire destroyed the the National Museum and much of the collection on display, including the sarcophagus of Sha-Amun-en-su, with its mummy. In the fire, the other mummies and sarcophagi of the collection, along with most of the archaeological collection, were also lost. Brazilian news reports said the loss of the sarcophagus is considered one of the greatest of the national museum’s fire.