The ‘embroideress Euphemia’ : the mummy, her clothes and accessories

A multidisciplinary quest on the origin and authenticity

The Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels possess an important collection of about 500 textiles found in Egypt and dating to the first millennium AD. A well known ensemble comes from two different graves from a necropolis in Antinoë (Middle Egypt). It was purchased at a public auction in Paris in 1901 having been unearthed the year before by Albert Gayet. This French archaeologist started working in Antinoë on the initiative and with the support of Émile Guimet, but the year in which he discovered the tombs he was sponsored by the Société française du Palais du Costume. The two tombs under discussion are firstly the tomb of the ‘embroideress’, of which the mummy, textiles and grave contents were acquired and secondly, the tomb of the goldsmith Colluthos and his wife, of which only part of a sarcophagus and textiles were purchased. In 1905 the whole ensemble was split between two museum collections: the mummy with the grave contents was registered in the Ancient Egyptian collection, while the textiles went first to the section of ‘Textiles and Embroidery’ and ended up, in 1972, in the newly created section of ‘Christian Art from the East’.

While Colluthos’ tomb is exceptionally well documented by five papyri dating to the middle of the 5th century, there is more doubt concerning the mummy of the ‘embroideress’. That is one reason why priority was given to this part of the ensemble. But there is a more important reason: the mummy is untouched and until now remains in the clothes in which she was buried. She is therefore an extremely important source for the study of clothing in Egypt in the first millennium AD. In fact, this study is part of the European Cultural project “Clothing and Identity – New perspectives on textiles in the Roman Empire”. This interdiciplinary six-year project started in 2008 and is directed by the Curt-Engelhorn-Stiftung of the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim, Germany. The aim of the project is to answer the question of how identity, and more specifically in this case gender and age, was expressed through clothing.

Focus on three topics

- a study of inventories, archives and publications in order to understand the history of the mummy since it was unearthed at the very end of the 19th century and identification of the textiles and objects in two sections of the museum.
- a radiocarbon, stable isotope and physical anthropological analysis (taking into account the fact that it was impossible to unwrap the mummy) of the remains of  Euphemia to reveal her age and obtain information of her social and physical environment
- a radiocarbon, dye and technical analysis of the textiles still wrapped around the body, found with the mummy in the showcase or kept separately from the mummy in the museum. Finally also some accessories supposedly found with the mummy were subject to a radiocarbon analysis.

Main partners

Mark Van Strydonck , Mieke Van Raemdonck , Mathieu Boudin, Ina Vanden Berghe, Daniël De Jonghe, Chris Verhecken-Lammens, Kim Cuintelier


At the moment the British Museum conducts a research project 'Antinoupoulis at the British Museum'. Read more