Tjayasetimu is the name of a little girl who was a star singer in ancient Egypt. Nearly three thousand years ago, she was a member of the royal choir and sang for the pharaohs in temples on the Nile. Tjayasetimu was recently featured in an exhibition at the British Museum called ‘Ancient Lives: New Discoveries’, which explored the lives and deaths of eight mummies.
Temple singers, dancers, and other performers have frequently been depicted in engravings in ancient Egypt. Singers are often seen playing an instrument called a sistrum, a kind of rattle, a harp, or bone “clappers”, all of which Tjayasetimu may have also used.
The seven-year-old girl, although heartbreakingly young when she died, was important enough to merit an elaborate mummification, a process normally reserved for Egyptian royalty and elite families. According to The Telegraph , which had a preview of the exhibition, Tjayasetimu had been wrapped in painted bandages, her face covered with a delicate veil and hidden by a golden mask, and she had been placed in a gilded sarcophagus.
Without disturbing her wrappings, scientists used a computerised tomography scanner to see what lay beneath her bandages. They found that the child star was well-preserved and still had a full head of shoulder-length hair. They could even see her milk teeth pushing up through her gums. At a height of just 4 feet, Tjayasetimu was far too small for her sarcophagus, although it is not clear why a casing was not made to fit her size. Scientists believe she died as a result of a short illness, such as cholera.
Hieroglyphics and paintings on the sarcophagus of Tjayasetimu, whose name means “the goddess Isis shall seize them”, reveal that she was “singer of the interior” in the temple for the god Amun, an elite role within the temple choir. Although her exact place of work is uncertain, it believed to have been the temple dedicated to Amun at the Karnak complex in ancient Thebes, near to modern-day Luxor, or most likely, given certain stylistic designs, in Faiyum, an oasis close to the Nile and about 60 miles south west of Cairo.