The naturally mummified remains of the Gebelein Man – nicknamed Ginger on account of the strawberry blond locks that were still attached to his skull – were uncovered in 1896 by E. A. Wallis Budge on behalf of the British Museum. Along with Ginger, five more perfectly preserved mummies were excavated from adjacent shallow graves dug into the sand. The mummies were believed to have been placed there sometime around 3400 BC, during the predynastic period of Ancient Egypt.
Ginger and his friends were taken back to the British Museum for study, but it would be Ginger who would be the first to be placed on public display. There, Ginger has remained since 1901, proudly displayed in an artificial sand grave and surrounded by pottery of the period, much like he was uncovered.
Since being brought to the British Museum, Ginger has been considered to be one of the oldest and most well-preserved mummies on public display. While much has been learned about Ginger and predynastic Ancient Egypt since the discovery, one thing archaeologists had trouble determining was the exact cause of Ginger’s death.
Museum researchers had noticed what appeared to be a wound to Ginger’s left shoulder blade but due to the delicacy of the artifact, curators could do little other than theorize how the ancient man may have died. It would take more than another century before technology could make an autopsy possible.
In 2012, researchers sent the remains to the Bupa Cromwell Hospital in London. There, high-resolution three-dimensional scans were taken of the mummy. After the imaging had taken place, researchers were able to create a “virtual autopsy table” to further examine the mummy and possibly determine the cause of the man’s death.
Heading this project was Dr. Daniel Antoine of the museum’s physical anthropology department. He told the BBC, “There’s a wound on the surface of his skin, which people have been able to see for the last 100 years, but it’s only through looking inside his body we’ve seen that his shoulder blade is damaged and the rib under the shoulder blade is also damaged. All of this suggests a violent death.”
Antoine and his team believed that the Gebelein Man had been between the ages of 18 and 21 when he met his doom. The lack of healing around the area of the wound to the mummy’s shoulder blade suggested that the stabbing had been fatal and the location of the stab wound suggested that it had been the result of a surprise attack. These details officially made the death of the Gebelein Man the world’s oldest known cold case.
Ginger remains on display at the British Museum, located at Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, UK. In addition to the Gebelein mummies, the museum is currently home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt.