Copyright 2001

[ October 22nd 2001 ]

A schoolboy who taught himself to read hieroglyphics has outwitted experts in Egyptology by identifying a 2,600-year-old mummy that had baffled museum curators for more than 100 years. The ancient writing on the mummy's casket had confounded archaeologists at Sheffield Museum since it was donated to the city by a private collector in 1893.

But 17-year-old Adam Cadwell, an A-level student from Sheffield who was on work experience at the museum, translated the intricate inscription covering the mummy's casket to reveal the identity of the embalmed Egyptian inside. Adam discovered the mummy was a young woman called Djema'at, the daughter of a wealthy upper middle-class family from Thebes, who was aged 14 when she died.

His translation revealed the inscription contained lists of offerings that her family hoped the gods would provide for their daughter, including 100 jars of beer, 100 jars of wine and 100 wheaten loaves. He also discovered a spell for charming the gods written on her casket. Djerma'at's family would have believed that she could use this in the after-life to win over the gods. He found that she lived during the 26th dynasty, about 650 BC.

Adam, who hopes to become an Egyptologist, said: "This is all I have ever wanted to do. When you mention archaeology people imagine that you must be like Indiana Jones running around with a Stetson and a whip rather than being on your hands and knees all day with a trowel. My interest is in language so I'm not really an Indiana Jones-type figure - but if Lara Croft from Tomb Raider ever needs an assistant I'll be there."

The museum's curators started to research the mummy's identity in earnest in 1992, using X-rays and CT scans to determine her origin. But until Adam came to the museum they had been unable to translate the hieroglyphics covering the casket.

Adam first became interested in ancient Egypt after learning about its history at primary school. His fascination with the country prompted his parents to take him on holiday to Egypt when he was nine years old. "I came home [from school] reeling off useless facts I learnt that day," he said. "My parents were looking for a place to go on holiday and they said, 'Why don't we give Egypt a try?' So I ended up in front of the temple of Karnak, and that was it. It all spiralled from there."

Adam first achieved national acclaim in July when he discovered a rare ancient Egyptian burial figure lying forgotten in a dusty drawer at a museum in Harrogate. He read the inscription and realised the six-inch figure had been removed from the tomb of an Egyptian Queen who had died 3,000 years before. It had been left to Harrogate musueum by a private collector but curators had been unaware of its value and rarity.

Anne Murrey, chairwoman of the North Yorkshire Ancient Egypt Group, which boasts Adam as its youngest member, said: "Adam is an extremely clever young man. He reads hieroglyphics like you or I would read a newspaper. We have been going through the storerooms of the local museums looking at objects that have been forgotten for decades. Adam has been translating the inscriptions and we are delighted that he has found some real treasures."

Gill Woolrich, Sheffield Museum's curator of archaeology, said: "We are really pleased that Adam has been able to finally identify the mummy. We have done a lot of work to find out more about its identity but until now we never had anyone who could read these hieroglyphics."

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