Scanning the Deadheads

Aubrey Baasdgaard CT scans the skull at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital
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Aubrey Baasdgaard CT scans the skull at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital

Aubrey Baasdgaard CT scans the skull at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital

Woolley saved few skeletons from his excavations, but he did consolidate the crushed skulls of soldiers from PG789 and some females from PG1237, using wax to lift them with their helmets and jewelry intact.  Janet Monge, Penn Museum’s Keeper of Physical Anthropology, Aubrey Baasdgaard (PhD 2008) and Samantha Cox (Class of 2010) recently undertook forensic examination of the two skulls in Penn Museum’s collection—a soldier and a female—to determine if they preserved any evidence of their cause of death.

Skull with headdress

Skull with headdress

Computed Tomography (CT-scans), done at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, show that both skulls have perimortem fractures that occurred prior to or close to the time of death. These fractures include circular holes that represent a blunt force trauma caused by a blow to the back of the head. This was the probable cause of death. Rather than dying willingly by drinking some “deadly or soporific drug,” as Woolley suggested, the two attendants in the Penn Museum collection were violently killed, probably with a heavy pointed instrument.

This is the sort of weapon that might have inflicted the death blows.
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This is the sort of weapon that might have inflicted the death blows.

This is the sort of weapon that might have inflicted the death blows.

The CT-scans also revealed that the body of the female had been exposed to heat before burial and treated with mercury sulfide (HgS). This would have delayed decomposition, suggesting that attendants’ bodies remained unburied, probably for lengthy funerary ceremonies.

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