The 3000 Year Old Egyptian Mummy at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent

The Chiddingstone mummy is a part of the collections of Chiddingstone Castle in Kent. It is estimated to be around 3000 years old. It’s comprised of a wooden lid, shaped to represent the shape of a man and covered with a thin layer of yellow-colored gesso. From the head and chest is an embellishment with blue, yellow and red paints. There is a hieroglyphic wording running down from the centre of the coffin lid, through the brightly colored broad collar down to the feet. It was intended to guarantee nourishment of the deceased in the afterlife. The offering mixture is made up of hieroglyphic signs, painted in black outline and a blue-green infill. Around the foot area, the glyphs have become damaged and worn out gradually- yet this is where the owner’s name is supposed to be written.

The Identity of the Mummy

Keen to find out if the identity could be recovered, the Chiddingstone Castle managers commissioned Kathryn Piquette to carry out multi-spectral imaging on the area around the damaged foot.

The identity of the mummy was revealed in 2017. A team consisting of an imaging specialist at UCL Imaging Consultants, an Egyptologist, Kathryn Piquette and a SEAHA PhD student in imaging applied to heritage, Cerys Jones, used modern imaging technologies to read the words on the coffin lid. The hieroglyphics are invisible on the scraps of papyrus used to make the case of the mummified body. The new technique was developed using fabricated scraps designed to mimic the ancient materials. They included old shopping lists and tax returns, which were recycled into sarcophagi. These items were previously thought as irrelevant. The writing was blurred by the paste and plaster that hold the mummy together.

The experts used reflectance transformation imaging and spectral imaging to know the identity of the interred mummy. The multispectral imaging of the 3000-year-old Egyptian coffin lid and an infrared filter was able to spell out the name of the mummy as Irethoreru. The name was written in the pigment Egyptian blue, which fluoresces in the infrared when the light is applied. The name Irethoreru translates to-”The Eye of Horus is against them”. The name was commonly used among males during the 1st millennium BCE. It is believed it protected the name bearer against enemies of whatever nature.

With the help of different imaging and processing techniques, the team were also able to find two figures of what appeared to be seated goddesses of either side of the central inscription.

Without technology, the sarcophagi would have needed to have been destroyed to reveal the identity of the mummy.

From an ancient Egyptian saying – To speak a man’s name is to restore him to eternal life. The curator at the museum believes that by determining the title written in hieroglyphs on the foot of the coffin, they have enabled Irethoreru to live forever.

How the mummy came to reside at the Chiddingstone Castle

The coffin lid made its way to Chiddingstone Castle through the works of Denys Eyre Bower. He was an avid collector of virtually everything. His passions were in collecting far Eastern and Egyptian artifacts. It was from these collections that the coffin lid of an ancient Egyptian mummy came to share space with other objects from across the world. He acquired the artifact in the mid-20th century. However, its actual provenance is unclear. The lid is thought to be part of an outer coffin that kept another inner coffin which, in turn, contained Irethoreru’s Mummified remains.

The coffin lid has been on display at the castle for many years with efforts of identifying the mummy proving difficult, until the latest discovery. The castle managers eventually sought the services of UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants to try and reveal the name of the mummy.

The rest of the remains of the Chiddingstone Mummy

With the coffin lid at the Chiddingstone Castle in Britain, the rest of the coffin resides in the San Diego Museum of Man. It was donated in the year 2001. Historians at the museum have been trying to dig for more information about the mummy using markings found on the coffin. There are still many things to be explained by the findings from the artifact. The precise location of where Itheroreru lived or where he was buried is yet to be determined. Also, what he did for a living remains a mystery. It is also not known where his mummy is currently located.

Some experts suspect that Irethoreru may have been buried in Middle Egypt. This is because of the style of his coffin. The beard on the coffin projects from the neck in a solid block. This is a common feature that has been noted on several coffins from el-Hibeh. At the back of his coffin, it appears it could have once been decorated with an image of a standing goddess which is a feature characteristic of coffins from the Fayum area. Another similarity with coffins from the above sites, are long snakes with their heads at the mummy’s shoulder undulate down both sides of the coffin.

The coffin most likely dates from between the Sailte Period (26th dynasty) and the Ptolemaic Period. His coffin also gives the names of some members of his family; his father, Sematawyirdis, his mother Tabetja and his grandfather, Sameref. They are not known from any other artifacts. To add to that, Irethoreru bears a unique title-xw-iwa, of which no other example is known. Historians at the San Diego Museum of Man loosely translated it as – Protector of the Meat Offerings.

The mystery of the identity is now known, but there is however, so much more to study about the Chiddingstone Castle Mummy. There are lots of Egyptian antiquities from the around the same time that bear the name Irethoreru, proving it’s quite a common name, but more analysis of these antiquities should be conducted, to know for sure if there is any relation to the Chiddingstone Castle’s mummy. Hopefully one day with developing technologies, more information comes to light.