If you ask me, there is always something interesting going on in the Artifact Lab, and yesterday was no exception. If you have been following the Artifact Lab blog, you will know that we have been working on one of the mummies in our collection, who we refer to as PUM I. PUM stands for Philadelphia University Museum, and he is PUM I because he was the first mummy from our collection to be autopsied, back in 1972. Although the autopsy was organized and sponsored by the museum, it involved many outside researchers, and until very recently, we hadn’t been able to track down any detailed reports or records about the event.
This all changed a few weeks ago-thanks to input from Curator of Physical Anthropology Dr. Janet Monge, Head Conservator Lynn Grant, and assistance from Archivist Alex Pezzati, I managed to track down the person who performed the autopsy – well known paleopathologist Dr. Michael Zimmerman – and locate more records and some photos of the autopsy. I actually kind of stumbled upon the photos, along with a bunch of newspaper clippings from 1972, in the University Archives.
One of the best parts of all of this is that Dr. Zimmerman lives in the Philadelphia area, and upon contacting him, he offered to visit us to answer some of our questions. A retired pathologist and professor of anthropology at Villanova, Dr. Zimmerman also teaches a class each year here at Penn. Yesterday, he paid a visit to the Artifact Lab, and to PUM I, who he hadn’t seen since the procedure over 40 years ago.
A group of us from the Conservation department and the Egyptian section assembled in the Artifact Lab to greet Dr. Zimmerman.
He told us a bit about his background, how he moved from pathology into paleopathology, and recounted details of PUM I’s autopsy and the scene (it was called a three-ring circus by one person) at the museum that day. As you can see from the old photos, was witnessed by a large crowd of people, including members of the media and even a class of visiting third-graders and their teachers!
Dr. Zimmerman told us that they learned a lot from this procedure and went on to autopsy several other mummies in our collection (PUM III and PUM IV). In his career, he has examined between 200-300 mummies from all over the world, and some of this work was recently featured in the Washington Post. He also spoke a bit about how these types of examinations have changed a lot since 1972 – much more information can be recovered today using almost completely non-invasive procedures, including CT-scanning. He said that if they had been able to CT scan PUM I’s remains, that they likely would not have performed the autopsy at all. CT-scanning technology was only being developed in the early 1970’s, and was used for the first time to examine a live patient’s head the same year PUM I was autopsied – it wasn’t used to examine ancient remains until much later.
This has been an exciting development, and we are grateful to Dr. Zimmerman for his willingness to visit us and to help us reconstruct the history of this mummy. All of this is important for our ongoing work to conserve PUM I for future examination, research, and exhibition.