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This, somewhat predictably, is what happens when a faculty of medicine owns a mummy. With the help of an electric drill, a cranioscope and a video monitor, Khamen the Young, a priest from Thebes, undergoes keyhole surgery at Claude Bernard univers ity inLyons.

Khamen was brought to France from Thebes in 1908 by Louis-Charles-Emile Lortet, a polymath and professor of natural history at the Lyons School of Medicine. Since then, the mummy has lived in the university museum, with occasional excursions, such as hisappointment for a brain scan last year and this visit to the operating theatre.

The cranioscopy, which lasted some two-and-a-half hours, was performed by the surgeon Eric Voiglio and his team, with a coterie of professors and academics also present, the idea being to determine the mummy's medical history.

The surgeons started by drilling small holes in Khamen's head, shoulder, and one arm. They then inserted a cranioscope, a small instrument attached to a video camera. As they wiggled the probe inside, images of the cranial vault and the upper body appeared on the monitor, alongside shining crystals of the resin which had been used in the embalming process. Later, the holes in the mummy were plugged with cotton wool.

The operation was reported to be a cross between DIY and surgery, conducted with the busy intensity associated with both pursuits. Certainly, the surgeons applied themselves as if the patient were still alive. Khamen, for his part, emitted a powerful smell of old leather.

Unfortunately, he remains somewhat of a mystery. We know that he died between the ages of 35 and 40 and had worked as a priest of the sun god Amon. But his remains have been variously dated as belonging to the eighth, tenth and, perhaps more reliably, the fourth century before Christ. The surgical team was unable to identify any illness or to ascertain the cause of death. Nor could they enter the abdominal cavity where, they believe, his principal organs are stored, in bags. (Higher-ranking mummies had their insides put in decorative jars.) And, as the cranioscope provides only a minute field of vision, the team intends to have another go on Khamen, using larger endoscopes.

Still, two gruesome details have emerged. During the embalming, Khamer's neck was broken to allow preservative resin to be poured into the cranial cavity. And his brain was removed through his nose. Amanda Mitchison

Photograph by Jean-Marie Huron