Paul S. Russell, MD Museum

Earlier this year MGH received an anonymous gift for the restoration of Padihershef. This generous funding launched a multi-phase conservation and research project that delves into many aspects of the life and death of the hospital's mummy.

Uncovering the Life of Padihershef

Secrets revealed during restoration project

31/Aug/2013

The Mummy Padihershef

In March 2013, MGH's oldest patient, the mummy Padihershef, underwent a full body CT scan.  This scan, which provided more than 20,000 scans that were then assembled into 3D renderings of his body. Many of these are replicated in the report prepared by forensic pathologist Jonathan Elias, PhD, of AMSC Research, a mummy research consortium.  A PDF of the report entitled “General Analysis of the Mummy Padihershef at Massachusetts General Hospital” can be found here. 

One of the outcomes of the project includes a CT facial reconstruction of Padihershef.  Using the scans, 3D facial recognition software and a thorough knowledge of mummy forensics, Elias' group undertook a thorough analysis based on all these factors and using a 3D skull model, developed a representation of what Padi may have looked like in life.

Bust of Padihershef

The mummy Padishershef has borne witness to many medical milestones during his 190 years in the Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Ether Dome. Over the decades, visitors to the room have been greeted silently by this unusual host, standing nestled in his beautifully decorated coffin, and often wondered just who he was and how he came to reside at the hospital.

On May 4, 1823, MGH received from the city of Boston an Egyptian mummy, complete with painted wooden inner and outer coffins.  The ensemble had been given to the city by Jacob Van Lennep, a Dutch merchant living in the Greek city of Smyrna in the early 19th century.  It is thought that Mr. Van Lennep, who was also the Counsel General of the Netherlands, bought the mummy as a gift to Boston as a way to impress his native New England in-laws.

The mummy arrived in Boston on April 26, 1823, on the British ship the Sally Ann. He was placed under the care of the ship’s captain, Robert B. Edes, along with Bryant P. Tilden, Esq., who ultimately made the decision to give the mummy to MGH.  The fledgling hospital, which had opened its doors just two years earlier, was still in need of operating funds that would help it better serve the sick and indigent individuals for whom it had been chartered to provide care.  The mummy would help raise those needed funds.

Shortly after his arrival, the mummy was put on display at "Mr. Doggett’s Repository of Arts" in Boston, where hundreds of people paid $0.25 to see the first complete human Egyptian mummy in the U.S.  That fall, the mummy went on a year-long, multi-city tour of the East Coast, raising even more money for the hospital. Upon his return, he was placed in the Ether Dome where he subsequently witnessed more than 6,000 surgeries, including the famous first successful demonstration of surgery under anesthesia on October 16, 1846.

More than a century later the hospital learned just who the mummy was.  In 1960 Dows Dunham, curator emeritus of the Department of Egyptian Art at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, examined and translated the hieroglyphics on the mummy’s coffin.  Hailing from the 26th Dynasty (663-525 BC) or later, the mummy now had a name – Padihershef and a birthplace – Thebes; and an occupation -- stonecutter. Newer medical information tells us that Padi was probably between 20 and 30 years of age and was not a stonecutter at all. Rather, he was "tomb finder," or prospector, someone who looked for spaces in the Theban necropolis that could serve as burial spaces.

Padi skull recreation

Until this most recent examination, little was known about his life before his death.  John Collins Warren, MD, cofounder of the MGH and its first surgeon, had performed a post-mortem on "Padi" when he first came to the MGH, which included uncovering the mummy’s head, as it remains today.  In 1931 and again in 1977, X-rays were taken of Padi in his case, which provided a little more insight into his health.  Growth lines show that Padi was so ill as a child that his growth stopped for some time before he was well again.  Bone damage reveals that he suffered from arthritis.  The extensive report included here provides many details of Padi's life that were unknown to us until his March 2013 scanning examination. 

Padi has been restored twice before: once in the 1980s and again in 2002.  Salt deposits that build up from the embalming elixir have formed on the exposed portions of Padi’s face and head need to be removed periodically. 

 For more information about the Padihershef restoration project or for questions about the MGH Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation and history programs, please email mghhistory@partners.org.