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Stabbed in the back: The 5,500 year old mummy murder mystery unearthed by a virtual autopsy at the British Museum

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  • Ginger, named for his red hair, was found to have been killed by a stab wound on his back after a 3D post-mortem using medical scans
  • Visitors can see the scans and use a touch screen to look inside his body to see if there are any other clues about his life and death

By Mark Prigg and Damien Gayle

PUBLISHED: 03:44 EST, 16 November 2012 | UPDATED: 07:01 EST, 16 November 2012

An ancient mummy who has been on display in the British Museum for over 100 years was a young man murdered by a killer who stabbed him in the back, new research shows.

Scans of the ancient Egyptian, known officially as Gebelein man but nicknamed Ginger for his red hair, show that a puncture just beneath his left shoulderblade was made by his murderer.

Forensic experts studied the scan on a 'virtual autopsy table' concluded that there is almost no doubt he was the victim of a deliberate, violent killing in peacetime.

The scans, which go on display today, allow visitors to virtually zoom through Ginger's body

The scans, which go on display today, allow visitors to virtually zoom through Ginger's body

The Gebelein Man, also known as Ginger for his red hair, a 5,500-year-old mummy displayed in the British Museum. Researchers have found a wound on his back was caused by his murderer

The Gebelein Man, also known as Ginger for his red hair, a 5,500-year-old mummy displayed in the British Museum. Researchers have found a wound on his back was caused by his murderer

Daniel Antoine, the museum's expert on human remains, told The Times: 'His left shoulderblade is slightly damaged.

'You can see that the rib immediately under the shoulderblade has been shattered in such a way that it has splintered into his tissue.

'This shows immense force.

'The force is such that the blade would have penetrated through his lung.'

Shattered bones: This scan image shows how Gingers ribs splintered into his soft tissue after the blade was plunged into his back

Shattered bones: This scan image shows how Gingers ribs splintered into his soft tissue after the blade was plunged into his back

No chance: The fatal wound was inflicted just beneath Ginger's left shoulderblade

No chance: The fatal wound was inflicted just beneath Ginger's left shoulderblade

New display: From today visitors can use a touch screen to look inside Ginger's body to see if there are any other clues about his life and death

New display: From today visitors can use a touch screen to look inside Ginger's body to see if there are any other clues about his life and death

Examinations also showed he was a young man, aged between just 18 and 20 when he was killed, and impressively muscled.

Mr Antoine said he believes a lack of defensive wounds suggest Ginger was the victim of a surprise attack. A blade of copper or sharpened flint at least 5in long and 0.7in wide made the injury, he said.

The way that Ginger's shattered bones remained in the soft tissue surrounding them indicates the injury took place while he was alive.

Professor Anders Persson of the Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV), a Forensic Radiology expert, who also uses the virtual autopsy system for criminal and accident cases in Sweden, confirmed the British Museum’s assessment that the force of the blow was such that it also shattered the rib immediately below the shoulder blade, embedding bone fragments into his muscle tissue, and injuring the left lung and surrounding blood vessels.

The absence of any signs of healing and the severity of the injuries suggest that this can be considered the cause of death.

The body, the London museum's most popular attraction after the Rosetta Stone, has rarely been moved since first being put on display in 1901.

Forensic investigation: Scientists examined Ginger using a computer axial tomography (CAT) scanner, with just 30 seconds of scans giving them enough data for a detailed investigation of his insides

Forensic investigation: Scientists examined Ginger using a computer axial tomography (CAT) scanner, with just 30 seconds of scans giving them enough data for a detailed investigation of his insides

To carry out their investigations, curators carried the mummy carefully on a duvet and packed it into a van for the drive to Cromwell Hospital in nearby Earl's Court.

Forensic scientists examined Ginger using a computer axial tomography (CAT) scanner, with just 30 seconds of scans giving them enough data for a detailed investigation of his insides.

The three-dimensional image created by the machine was than imported into software developed by the Interactive Institute which allows investigators to rotate, enlarge and virtually cut layers away.

EGYPT'S PREDYNASTIC PERIOD

The late Neolithic period in Egypt is known as the Predynastic period.

It began in the sixth millennium BC, and ended with the unification of Egypt, which marked the start of the historical period in Egypt.

It is traditionally divided into two subgroups, called the Naqada I period (4000-3500 BC) and the Naqada II period (3500-3100 BC).

Naqada was an important southern town where these periods were first distinguished in modern times.

The inhabitants of Egypt first lived in settlements during the Predynastic period.

Cemeteries were located in the low desert near the settlements, and the north and south of the country were culturally distinct.

The south was administered from the city of Hierakonpolis, while the capital of the north was Buto.

Burials at the time were simple pit graves, in which the corpse was laid in a crouched position and naurally dried by the hot sand.

In later burials, the bodies were sometimes wrapped in mat, and the person's head and limbs bound with cloth.

The objects placed in burials, such as items of jewellery, slate palettes and pots are the main sources of information about this time.

Curators had not even seen the underside of the ancient murder victim for 100 years, Dr Antoine told The Times, but now, using the computer model, they can examine almost all his internal organs in detail.

Further research could now be done to paint a picture of Ginger's final few hours before his killer caught up with him. The British Museum's team should be able to analyse his last meal, Dr Antoine said, and even see what he ate in his last three months by an analysis of his hair and fingernails.

He added: 'Not only have we been able to discover that Gebelein Man was young when he died but, unexpectedly, the 3D visualisation of the CT scan has confirmed that he was stabbed in the back.

'The analysis of ancient human remains rarely reveals the cause of death but the cut on his back, as well as the damage to the underlying shoulder blade and rib, are characteristic of a single penetrating wound.

'The virtual autopsy table has allowed us explore the CT scan data interactively and clearly visualise his skeleton and internal organs, something that is not always possible with other methods.'

Ginger as he was originally displayed at the British Museum

Ginger as he was originally displayed at the British Museum

A new display unveiled today based on the findings allows visitors to use a touch screen to look inside his body to see if there are any other clues about his life and death.

Using the interactive touchscreen and the gesture based interface it is possible to strip away the skin to expose his skeleton, and make virtual slices to view his internal organs and his brain.

David Hughes of the Interactive Institute said ‘This powerful visualisation system has enabled not just remarkable new revelations about one of the British Museum’s most iconic mummies, but also brings the thrill of discovery straight to the gallery for the public.

'Using exactly the same technology that the scientists use, visitors to the museum can now explore for themselves and, who knows, perhaps even make their own new discovery with the exhibit.’

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