Origin of 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy proven

Researchers in Rio Grande do Sul have determined the approximate age of a mummified head kept in a museum in the state. The item will be on display at university PUC-RS starting June 11.

Thais Sousa

São Paulo – It took over two years of studies to confirm that Iret-Neferet is really an Egyptian mummy, and that it is between 2,495 and 2787 years old. Since late 2017, the Afro-Egyptian Identities Study Group at the School of Humanities of the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS) has been doing research on the head of a mummy whose origin and details were unknown.

How the mummy ended up in Brazil is still uncertain. What the PUC researchers heard is that an Egyptian supposedly brought the mummy’s head to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. Nearing the end of his life, he befriended a Brazilian and decided to donate the head. That Brazilian returned to the city of Cerro Largo, in his native state Rio Grande do Sul. A cultural association was coming into existence there, and its mission was to revive German culture. Eventually the mummy’s head was added to its collection.

The head of mummy Iret-Neferet

And so the item sat from the late 1970s until recently at Museu 25 de Junho in Cerro Largo, in the Rio Grande do Sul countryside, stored in a glass casing. “That was the first story. Maybe there’ll be more accounts to be had now that the mummy is going public,” said professor Édison Hüttner, the research coordinator.

Hüttner specializes in sacred art research, and that’s what first led him to Cerro Largo. “When I got there they told me they had something special. It was sitting behind a curtain, and it was a mummy’s head. I believed it because I’d worked in Italy for a while and I’d seen mummies, so I pledged to study it. We brought together several researchers, including Moacir Elias, who’s an archaeologist [with the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in Curitiba] and we created the research group specifically because of that head,” said Hüttner.

Since then, the mummy has undergone several studies. “The CT scan (a photograph from above) at Rio Grande do Sul’s Instituto do Cérebro (Brain Institute) was very important. That’s when we realized that one of the eyes was made from a linen-based material, and the whites are from rock – probably calcareous. We know that that was part of the tradition – to give mummies fake eyes. It was a very interesting aspect for us to compare the eye with those of other (mummies),” he said

The eye of the mummy

That’s when the mummy’s head got a name: Iret-Neferet, which is Ancient Egyptian for ‘Pretty Eye.’ The name was given by the team of Brazilians, who kept canvassing for information to give Iret-Neferet a fuller identity.


To prove what professor Hüttner believed from the beginning, a radiocarbon (C14) dating was necessary. “This test was a breakthrough. It was important because we needed a document to prove the origin. After assessing the mummy, a tooth proved to be an acceptable raw material for the test, which was run last January,” explained the coordinator, pointing out that this was probably the first mummy to go through the carbo-14 test in Brazil. “As far as I’ve researched, the mummies in Rio de Janeiro haven’t gone through this test, maybe because it was already certain that they were [Egyptian] mummies, and Tothmea, which is in Curitiba, has neither,” he explained.

Two months later, the team had access to the scientific data. The results showed that the mummy likely was 2,495 to 2787 years old. It turned out that the head belonged to someone that lived around 768-476 BC. Iret-Neferet was approximately 40 years old and lived from the 3rd Intermediate Period (1070-712) and the beginning of the Late Period (Saite-Persian: 712-332 BC) of Egypt. According to professor Hütter, the mummy was a woman, as shown by the skull measurement that was done by the Brazilian researchers.

The CT scan performed at Rio Grande do Sul’s Instituto do Cérebro

Now, those wanting to see the mummy for themselves may visit it in the free-admission exhibition starting on June 11. Iret-Neferet will be at the hall of PUC library until July 28. The exhibition will also feature pieces from the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in Curitiba.

Afterwards, it will return to Cerro Largo. “Our research always tries and value what comes from that place. I think an exhibition elsewhere is important. Our goal is to exhibit the mummy. It stands as a tribute to those mummies burned during the fire in the National Museum [of Rio de Janeiro, in September 2018], a tribute to the mummies that were lost in History and to the Egyptian people, who are deeply rooted in them. It is a landmark,” said Hüttner.

Research on the mummy will likely continue and a 10-researcher team will keep working with some fragments collected from Iret-Neferet’s head, which is now in an incubator, from where the researchers hope to find more data before the exhibition begins.

Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum & Guilherme Miranda

Press Release
Edison Huttner
Edison Huttner

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