Hen undergoes new battery of tests in hopes updated technology will reveal new facts about his life and death 2,000 years ago
BY Jason Emerson
On a cold, snowy Sunday night, when the Cazenovia Public Library was closed and silent as a tomb, members of the library staff opened the glass case containing Hen, the library’s Egyptian mummy. Standing silently by was an official from the Onondaga County Coroner’s Office, who carefully placed this 2,000-year-old relic onto a stretcher, covered it with a sheet and deposited the body into the office “bus” for a ride to Crouse Hinds Hospital in the city.
It was the first time in years the case had been opened; and the first time in 10 years that Hen had been moved.
The silence of the event was not somber, but excited — Hen was about to undergo medical tests and technological examinations that would, hopefully, offer new information about the library’s famous resident and help bring the story — and the humanity — of this long-dead person into brighter, clearer detail.
“My goal overall is to make this mummy a person; the more information we can get about Hen — who he was, how he lived, how he died — the more respect we can have for him,” said library Director Betsy Kennedy. “I want people to think of Hen as a person and not as an oddity.”
Hen came to Cazenovia in 1894, the gift of resident Robert J. Hubbard, as an addition to the library museum. Hubbard — who donated the current library building in 1890 specifically to be the community library and museum — purchased the mummy in Cairo, Egypt while he was on tour in that country.
“The mummy is a fine one and in a good state of preservation. It is in the later period when Greek art asserted itself in Egypt. Its age is somewhere about 2,000 years,” reported the Cazenovia Republican on April 5, 1894. The mummy was unveiled to the public on Jan. 31, 1895 during the “mummy tea” event, in which patrons could see Hubbard’s reliquaries for the first time and enjoy a cup of tea for 10 cents. The proceeds of the event went to the library.
The mummy, along with numerous other ancient Egyptian artifacts that make up the library’s Egypt Room, became a major, and famous, part of the Cazenovia Public Library and Museum, and even today is a staple of educational visits by regional high school students, tourists and locals bringing in out-of-town visitors.
Having a mummy in the Cazenovia Public Library is “an opportunity to learn about another culture,” Kennedy said. “It’s such an incredible gift that shows Mr. Hubbard’s generosity. There’s also a pride; and the community feels that pride.”
Sunday night was not the first time Hen had made the trip to Crouse Hospital. His first visit was in March 2006, when he underwent a CAT scan that created a three-dimensional hologram of the body inside the ancient wrappings — an image that is currently on display at the Cazenovia Public Library as part of the overall mummy exhibit — as well as the discovery of what appeared to be a cancerous tumor in his left leg.
The results of that scan offered everyone a huge surprise: Hen was thought since 1894 to be female (An Egyptian princess, in fact, Hubbard was told when he bought her) but was, actually, male.
“How am I going to tell the third graders?” Kennedy said at the time.
The new set of tests on Sunday were done in an effort to see if updated technology could reveal new and previously unknown aspects of Hen’s life and death — particularly about the tumor in his leg and the prevalence of the cancer in his body.
The new CAT scan results are expected to be much crisper and clearer than those from 2006, Kennedy said. As one doctor told her: the 2006 machine is a relic of the “dark ages” compared to the 2017 version.
Dec. 10, 2017 event
The Dec. 10 trip to Crouse for Hen started at 5 p.m. with the opening of the glass case and ended when he was returned to his case around 10 p.m.
After the case was opened — which allowed a smell of resin to permeate the small Egypt room — and Hen was placed on the stretcher, he was driven to Crouse Hospital in the Onondaga County Coroner’s vehicle by Ron Brunelli of the county coroner’s office and David Butler of TLC Emergency Medical.
Kennedy rode with Hen in the back. “I will be there hovering the whole time,” she said before they left. “I’m pretty nervous, but I think it will be fine; we just have to be super careful.”
“He’s good,” said museum educator Julia Shotzberger, who has been a main component of Hen’s latest visit to the hospital. “He’s excited … I’m very excited.”
At Crouse, Hen was wheeled into the radiology department where Dr. Mark Levinsohn supervised CAT scans of the mummy. Levinsohn, a retired radiologist from Crouse, also performed the 2006 CAT scan on Hen.
“It’s déjà vu; it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do this,” he said. “I consider this mummy to be a community treasure … it’s very interesting to see how much interest there is in the community for this.”
As the scans were done, dozens of people watched the event take place, including Cazenovia Public Library staff, hospital doctors, nurses and personnel, and multiple members of television and print media.
“This is a lot different than last time,” Kennedy said. “Last time there was no news here at all.”
After the CAT scans were completed, Hen was wheeled down to another floor to undergo biopsies by radiologist Dr. Stuart Singer, a resident of Cazenovia. Using tiny needles and a power drill, Singer was able to successfully extract pieces of the bone tumor from Hen’s left leg, a piece of muscle from Hen’s right leg and a piece of Hen’s lung. All three pieces will be analyzed in an attempt to better understand the type of cancer in Hen’s leg, and whether it migrated up into his lung or the abnormality in his lung was something else such as tuberculosis.
“Glad I had a power drill this time,” said Singer, who also participated in the 2006 testing of Hen. “I got really good specimens of the leg muscle, and pretty good specimens of the leg tumor and the lung.”
Dr. Anthony E. Shrimpton, director of molecular diagnostics at Upstate Medical University, will test some of the biopsied pieces to see if he can get DNA to check for any type of mutation to identify the type of tumor on Hen’s leg. “I’m not really optimistic. We did try this before (in 2006) and got nothing,” he said.
The results of all the biopsy and CAT scan analyses will likely take 2 to 3 months and will be completed at Upstate Medical University, Levinsohn said. “I feel satisfied with [what we’ve done tonight] but I’m not sure we’ll get the results we want,” he said at the end of the evening.
Levinsohn and the other doctors involved in the testing have agreed to present their findings to the public at the Cazenovia Public Library next tear. Levinsohn also hopes to publish his findings about the tumor in a national journal.
In addition to all the medical diagnostics surrounding the mummy, there will also be a new 3-D print made of the object inside Hen’s abdomen. The item, which is clearly visible in the 2006 CAT scan, is thought to be a statue of some kind, although British Egyptologist Dr. Robert Loynes, at the Manchester [England] Museum Project, believes it is folded up wrappings placed in the body as a cavity filler or perhaps the empty sac of an internal organ. The new CAT scans may help to clear up the disagreement, Kennedy said.
In the end, Hen returned to Cazenovia with a few of his wrappings loosened, and the eyes of his death mask having fallen off (they were already unattached, modern creations added just a few years ago), but no major damage was done — and a bevy of new information could be on the horizon. For Kennedy, the generosity of everyone involved in the project was something she could not praise enough. All the medical professionals, the hospital and the county coroner’s office donated their time and equipment free of charge to the event. “I am just so grateful,” she said.
“It’s a Sunday night two weeks before Christmas and all these people are giving their time,” Shotzberger said. “Amazing.”