I find the dark, serene face of the Egyptian singer-priestess on the cover of the first 2014 issue of FAPESP Research fascinating. I am drawn to the big black eyes highlighted with what was probably kohl—a complex, timeless cosmetic including small portions of lead compounds (apparently to prevent infections)—the thick, perfectly drawn eyebrows, the straight, thin nose, the beautiful lips and the smoothly rounded contour of the face, and note in passing that she is a beautiful woman, certainly in the glow of youth. But the real Sha-Amun-em-su, whose image is painted on a coffin in which her mummified body is stored—part of the Egyptian collection of the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro—was not young: she died at about age 50 in 750 B.C. after years and years of chanting sacred songs in honor of the god Amun. Her image here in this issue is from a photo taken by Eduardo Cesar, a professional who has been part of our team for 14 years.
The history of how this particular mummy wound up in a Brazilian museum collection also fascinates me, as well as the latest possibilities for uncovering its ancient secrets through 3-D images, vividly narrated by our special editor Marcos Pivetta beginning on page 16. It is an interesting story: Dom Pedro II, during a trip to Egypt in 1876 and 1877, gave Egypt’s sovereign, the Khedive Ismail, a book about Brazil and received the sealed casket of the singer-priestess in return. The emperor safeguarded it in his office until 1889. The proclamation of the Republic led to the incorporation of the relic into the National Museum’s collection, which since 1892 has been housed in the former residence of the Brazilian imperial family, and today belongs to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Note that the coffin has never been opened, but in recent years it has become a valuable source of information about Egyptian funeral customs regarding their singer-priestesses, thanks mainly to CT scans, using X-rays, that allow one to see inside the three-dimensional structures of the body in a coffin preserved 2,800 years ago. This narrative, written with grace and fluency is worthwhile reading.
Finally, I am enchanted by the chance to bring this story on Sha-Amun-em-su to readers at precisely this time, namely the passage from one year to the next, during which we usually reflect on what we did over the past year and what we plan to do in the coming one, a sort of blank slate in time, on our passage through a given interval of time. What fascinates me here is the contrast between the transience of individual time—and none of us escapes, sooner or later, this agonizing feeling that the days are trickling through our fingers—and the long duration of time in history. There is always some consolation in the realization that there is, if not an eternity, at least millennia in human history.
I would also like to briefly highlight the article written by our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, about what is being discovered about early puberty (page 44), and the story from our collaborator Igor Zolnerkevic on the intriguing resistance of some brains against the advance of Alzheimer’s disease (page 50).
I hope our readers enjoy this issue and a creative and bright New Year.Republish