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The Mystery of the Mummy’s Hand: Analysis of an Unusual Gift by C.W. Post Mummy Expert Reveals Hand is that of an Ancient Egyptian Female


Rita Langdon,Associate Provost and Director of Public Relations
C.W. Post Campus,
Long Island University

Brookville, New York – When renowned mummy expert Dr. Bob Brier received a mummified hand in the mail a few weeks ago, his extensive knowledge of mummies enabled him to form several theories. Dr. Brier was convinced that the mummified hand, with its brittle fingernails, resin coating and authentic-looking linen wrap, was real. And because of the small size of the hand, he estimated that it belonged to a child.

On Monday, October 21, Dr. Brier conducted a series of authenticity tests including x-ray analysis on the hand during the "Ancient Egypt Thought" class he teaches at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, NY.

The Test Results

The X-ray and analysis confirmed the most important theory – that the hand is indeed real and is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. The skeletal structure, however, shows that the hand was in fact that of an ancient Egyptian woman, rather than that of a child. According to Dr. Brier, who has conducted research on female mummies, ancient Egyptian women tended to be smaller in size, averaging 4 foot, 10 inches, and the hand is consistent with that build. Dr. Brier estimates that since the bones show no signs of arthritis or wear on the joints, that the right hand belonged to a woman no older than 50. The absence of cartilage at the ends of the bones, which would be seen in younger hands but not in older more mature ones, also indicate that the mummy’s hand is that of an adult. Further analysis suggests that the hand was taken from a body mummified some time between 1000 B.C. and 700 B.C. Also, the resin used to coat the hand for preservation purposes is a type that was used during that period to cover up poor or rushed mummification techniques. Dr. Brier also concluded that the hand was that of a wealthy person. The quality of the linen wrap and density of the bones - which indicates excellent nutrition - suggested the upper class status. Professor James F. Joyce, Director of C.W. Post’s Radiologic Technology Program, took the x-rays.

The History of the Mummy Hand

The hand came to the professor of philosophy and Egyptology as a gift from Marilyn Tope Doolen of New Mexico. Her father, Merrill S. Tope, purchased the hand in 1926 on the bank of the Nile River, near the Valley of the Kings. The hand and other mementos he purchased were "genuine and worthy souvenirs of old Egypt," wrote Tope in a diary that chronicled his travels in Egypt while a ministerial student.

Mrs. Doolen and her husband had seen a documentary Dr. Brier wrote and hosted for The Learning Channel (TLC). The three-part series, called "Unwrapped: The World of Mummies," recreated an Egyptian mummification. They also listened to a series of Dr. Brier lectures titled "The History of Ancient Egypt."

The Doolens were so impressed with Dr. Brier’s work that they decided to donate the mummified hand, which had been in the family for nearly 80 years, to Dr. Brier. "We have listened to [the lectures] at least twice, wishing now we could go back to that region with the insights and appreciation you have given the listeners," Doolen wrote to Brier in August.

Dr. Brier notes that when the mummy hand was purchased in 1926, it was the golden age of tourism in Egypt and many locals would often sell fake mummified human body and animal parts as well as statues to capitalize on the tourism hype. However, Dr. Brier believed from the beginning that this mummified hand was probably real.

"The value of a gift like this cannot be underestimated," says Dr. Brier. "By using modern technology to study an authentic mummy - even a hand - we can learn so much about the culture, practices, and knowledge of ancient Egyptians. We are grateful for the Doolen’s generosity."

In a telephone conversation from her home in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Mrs. Doolen said she felt it was her obligation to share the artifact for research purposes. "I've thought of myself as the humble guardian of this amazing artifact and I have always felt responsible to share it in a way that will enable future generations to appreciate their history," said the former history school teacher. "Education is something our family values," she added.

Dr. Bob Brier

Each semester Dr. Brier teaches one course on Ancient Egypt and two on philosophy. He also organizes student trips to Egyptian tombs not open to the public. He attracted a great deal of publicity in 1994 when he became the first person in 2,000 years to mummify a human cadaver using the exact tools and procedures of the ancient Egyptians. In 1996, his research and subsequent book, "The Murder of Tutankhamen," presented his theory that King Tut, the boy king, was murdered in 1336 B.C. by his civil servant named Aye. Recognized as one of the world's foremost experts on mummies, Dr. Brier uncovered the secret techniques used to mummify Evita Peron and has conducted research in pyramids and tombs in 15 countries. He is the host of award-winning television specials for TLC, including the summer 2002 blockbuster "Pyramids, Mummies & Tombs." The author of several scholarly books, Dr. Brier is affectionately known as "Mr. Mummy."

For additional information call (516) 299-2333 or email

Posted 10/08/2002

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