Hrdlička Museum of Anthropology, Prague, Czech Republic

The idea to establish an anthropological museum in Prague dates back to 1922, but it was not until 1929 that Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, a famous anthropologist of the Czech origin, sent a letter to Czechoslovak president T.G. Masaryk, asking for the museum to be established. He offered financial support through the establishment of funds and created the museum's conception that  contained four main departments that remain in its structure until today: Phylogenetic development of man, Cycle of life, Race variations and Race pathology and death. The Museum of Man was officially opened in 1937 in which year it was renamed to  Hrdlička Museum of Man.

This page contains images of human remains. Scroll down if you wish to view photographs of human remains, that is whole mummies, mummified heads and human skulls.

Human remains originating from the cemeteries of Deir el-Medina, nowadays housed within the collectionsof the Hrdlička Museum of Anthropology, Charles University, Prague, consist of:

  • 3 complete mummified bodies

  • 8 mummified heads

  • 23 human skulls and

  • several long bones.

They all were donated by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo to the national collectionsin Prague thanks to the endeavours of Czech Egyptologist Jaroslav Černý. Jaroslav Černý was involved inexcavations at Deir el-Medina as an epigrapher from 1925 and was able to facilitate the donations. Theknown provenance of the mummified remains helped in their dating: 6 of them were dated to the 18th-20th dynasties, the other 6 into the 21st dynasty. The skeletal remains came from the 18th dynasty tombs No. 1137, 1153 and 1159 which were excavated in 1928 by Bernard Bruyère and his team. Jaroslav Černý participated in the discoveries.

The skeletal remains were donated directly to the Anthropological Institute of the Charles University (they became part of the Museum of Man, renamed the Hrdlička Museum of Man in 1937) (Matiegková,1931,324). The mummified remains (complete bodies and heads) together with several other objects, were transferred from the National Museum to the Hrdlička Museum at the end of November 1958 (Strouhal,1980,28).

Although many will consider the displaying of human remains as controversial, the collection being a part of an anthropological museum and serving as a teaching and research collection, skeletons, bones and weathered flesh are quite rightly on display there.

The aim of this page is not only to describe and show the fascinating remains showcased in the museum. Summary of the mummification techniques used in ancient Egypt and health and disease issues are also touched upon. It is my wish to bring to the attention of the reader of these web pages a lesser known collection from Deir el-Medina where I came literally face to face with the ancient members of the community whose intriguing histories I have been following for over a decade.

I would like to express my thanks to the Hrdlička Museum and its staff, whose time and help has been essential. The curator Marco Stella kindly gave me permission to publish the images on my web site, and both him and Zuzana Krupová were generous with their assistance.

Photographs © Hrdlička Museum of Anthropology

Photography Lenka Peacock.

The text was compiled by Lenka Peacock mainly based on the research conducted and published by Eugen Strouhal, Luboš Vyhnálek, Ludmila Matiegková and Jindřich Matiegka with additional sources listed in the bibliography below.

Skeletal remains
The skeletal remains from Deir el-Medina consist of remains of Sennefer, Neferit and a child, discovered in pit 1159 in 1928 by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo under direction of Bernard Bruyère. The bodies were sent to Prague to the Institute of Anthropology of Charles University wrapped in linen with labels attached to them (Matiegková,1931,324).

The skulls of both adults are described below.
The consignment also included 20  skulls lacking lower jaws (1 lacking the facial bones). Of these 20 skulls lacking lower jaws (1 lacking the facial bones). Of these 20 skulls  5 skulls came from an 18th dynasty Pit 1137, discovered by Bruyère in 1928. 4 of the skulls belonged to adults, 1 to a child.
Bruyère's notes dating to January 15th 1928 recording the discovery of Pit 1137 can be viewed in his notebook published on-line by IFAO:
4 skulls of the consignment derived from the 18th dynasty Pit 1153 discovered at the same time.
Bruyère's sketch of the position of the pit within the southwest corner of the western cemetery can be viewed in his notebook published on-line by IFAO:


Sennefer and Neferit's tomb was undisturbed in antiquity. They were found in their coffins that contained some of their possessions. To read about the tomb, its discovery and description of its contents as well as description of the coffins and its contents go to Tomb 1159.  The passage below contains description of the skulls examined by Matiegka and Matiegková and published in 1931. Both adult bodies were left to decay with little or no mummification. No traces of resin were found on the bodies. Mostly the skeletons survived.


Sennefer's body was wrapped in 7 layers of linen. The corpse was wrapped in roughly woven linen although linen of finer quality was used for the top layer. A layer of bandages was applied to each layer of linen wrappings. White dried maggots were found in the coffin. They were responsible for the holes in the wrappings, that caused the bodily fluids to stain the bottom of the coffin. No skin survived on Sennefer's body. In his thorax remains of lungs were found in the form of black substance. His arms were placed along the body, palms covering the genital area.

Sennefer's skull from the collection of the Hrdlička Museum

Neferit's body was placed within the sycamore coffin wrapped in layers of linen. No cartonnage mask was present. No mummification was detected and evisceration was not performed on the deceased. The remains were stuck to the bottom of the coffin. Neferit's arms were placed alongside her body, palms protecting the genital area. Brown dust surrounded the skeleton. Those were the disintegrated muscles and soft tissue. Remains of the skin were preserved in the breast and stomach areas. The skin on the breasts displayed red spots, perhaps sign of an infectious disease. The skin on her neck still had a youthful appearance. In her thorax remains of lungs and larynx were found. The cranial cavity contained dark red dust, remains of brain. The body was adorned with a necklace of turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and gold, an arm and wrist bracelets and 2 rings.

Neferit's skull from the collection of the Hrdlička Museum


I would like to express my thanks to Hans Ollermann from Holland, who improved the images of Neferit's skull.

It was noted that the causes of death of both Sennefer or Neferit were impossible to establish and neither was the sequence in which they died. There was no written evidence that Neferit was Sennefer's wife, but together with the baby discovered in the coffin next to theirs, all three seem to create a family unit. Today they are reunited again, on the shelf of the museum's
display cabinet.


Complete mummified bodies

All 3 mummified bodies are displayed within the cabinet which is mainly devoted to the ancient Egyptian human and animal remains and several other ancient Egyptian artefacts. The bodies are placed on the shelves behind glass doors, which is why the photographs cannot be rendered into panoramas to display the bodies in one image. The cabinet is placed within the Museum's second room. The bodies and the body parts were part of the "Research in Ancient Egyptian Mummies" project, conducted by Eugen Strouhal and Luboš Vyhnálek at the Radiological Clinic of the Charles University in Prague between 1971-1973 (Strouhal,1980,5). Their research was based on the radiological examination, the only method widely used at the time for non-invasive investigation of bodies covered in ancient wrappings. The aim of the investigation was to collect medical and anthropological data on the bodies and the body parts while not physically interfering with the remains. No objects still left on the bodies were removed. The x-rays were obtained from a focus of 1 meter and in some instances a different exposure was used to obtain clearer picture (Strouhal,1980,16). General external study of the remains accompanied the project and the findings were compiled in a comprehensive catalogue of all known mummified remains in the Czechoslovak collections of the time.  According to Bruyère the bodies should have arrived in Prague in 3 original coffins but they could not be located by the time the research was conducted during early 1970s and so they are presumed lost (Strouhal,1980,28). If ever found, the coffins might provide clues to the identity of the 3 individuals described below.


Inv. No. 15/1

Human remains from Deir el-Medina dated to the 19th-20th dynasties
The mummified body of a female is displayed on the middle shelf of the cabinet in a stretched out position.
During the mummification process the body was coated with resin resulting in the surface of the skin being black. Resin used to be applied to the surfaces to prevent bacterial activity and to exclude moisture (Taylor,2001,84). Very few mummy wrappings are preserved on the body. The body lacks lower parts of both upper limbs, only their tops remain. Some ribs in the lower rib cage area are missing. The head was placed onto a wooden pole in the 20th century (Strouhal,1980,31). The features of the face are well preserved. Hair, eye leashes and brows are well preserved and it seems that the woman suffered from a birth defect in the form of a cleft lip (Matiegková,1929,253). From the top of the head down to heels the body measures 159 cm. According to the anthropologists the woman died between 50-60 years of age.

Mummification was practiced in ancient Egypt from the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC, when bodies wrapped in linen with residue of resin, were found in the mid-Predynastic period cemetery of Hierakonpolis (Taylor,2001,47) to the first centuries AD. The methods of the artificial preservation changed and evolved over time, but the aim stayed the same - to prevent the corpse from decay and to preserve it from destruction. Surviving funerary texts stress the importance of the physical body as a place for the ka and the ba, to be reunited in the afterlife. The stages of preparing the deceased for the burial inside the tomb took around 70 days. The process involved washing the body, removal of the brain and the viscera, drying the body through the use of natron, packing the body cavities to provide support, anointing and cosmetic treatments, wrapping the body in linen and providing the external additions in the form of funerary masks and coffins.
The process of mummification made new advances during the New Kingdom thanks to prosperity and stability. A wider range of materials from abroad also became available (resins and oils) due to contacts with new places (Taylor,2001,83). Extraction of the brain and evisceration performed via the abdominal incision were standard features of mummification, but the best techniques were reserved for the royalty and the highest ranking members of the court, while the rest of the population had to be satisfied with less elaborate procedures, sometimes reduced to just wrapping the dried body.


Inv. No. 15/2
Human remains from Deir el-Medina dated to the 19th-20th dynasties
The mummified body of a male is displayed on the top shelf of the cabinet in a stretched out position.
The upper right arm rests alongside the body, but the hand and the forearm are missing. The left forearm is placed over the hip with its hand directed to cover the genital area. The head is slightly turned to the left. The hair is preserved. The bandages made of woven linen are preserved on the arms and the lower limbs. They were applied in circular rotation. The feet are bound by thicker bandages. The exposed surface of the body is darkened by resin. There are traces of laquer being applied (Strouhal,1980,29).
From the top of the head down to heels the body measures 162 cm. According to the anthropologists the man died between the age of 50-70 years. The x-rays showed signs of osteoporosis evident in the whole skeleton. The set of teeth is almost complete and the tongue is present in the slightly open mouth.

The mummification was not always performed by the team of professional embalmers. The textual evidence suggests, that at Deir el-Medina the bodies of the community were prepared or at least wrapped by the workers themselves. The so called Absence ostrakon EA 5634, now in the British Museum, bears the attendance record of the workmen during year 40 of Ramesses II reign. The inscription on the front tells us, apart from listing other reasons for absences, that Hehnekhu in month 2 of summer, day 7 was wrapping (the corpse of) his mother, the same was done on day 8 ; Buqentuf was in month 2 of summer, day 6 wrapping (the corpse of) his mother, the same was done on day 8. The inscription on the back informs us that Amenemwia was in month 1 of winter, day 15 embalming Hormose, month 3 of winter, day 6 wrapping (the corpse of) his mother ; Neferabu was in month 2 of summer, day 7 embalming his brother ; Rahotep was in month 2 of summer, day 5 wrapping (the corpse of) his son, day 6, day 7, the same was done on day 8.
Mummy bandages were made from strips and sheets of linen, often recycled from pieces of everyday clothing and bed covers. Usually the head and the limbs were wrapped one by one first, then sheets of linen alternating with narrow strips were applied in layers to create the standard shape of the mummy (Taylor,2001,59). The quality and quantity of wrappings varied and not many bodies survived in their original bandages once discovered as pieces of jewellery and amulets were sought.


Inv. No. 15/3

Human remains from Deir el-Medina dated to the 19th-20th dynasties
The mummified body of a male is displayed on the top shelf of the cabinet in a stretched out position.
The upper arms are placed by the sides of the body. The only remaining linen wrappings are on the face, where they were placed in the 20th century due to soft tissue in the area being destroyed. Dark brown hair is preserved on the head as well as a short beard on the chin. Several ribs are dislocated and the rib area is broken on both sides but the abdominal wall, although sunken, is well preserved. The surface of the body is shining and black due to use of resin during the embalming process.
From the top of the head down to the heels the body measures 158 cm.
The bone structure was found to be normal by the anthropologists. As the male external organs were preserved, so it was straightforward to determine the sex of the mummy. The male probably died aged 40 to 50 (Strouhal,1980,33-35).

Health and disease

Human remains are one of the sources for the study of disease in pharaonic times. For the last 200 years mummies have been unwrapped, examined, later to be x-rayed and scanned. Together with written evidence based on the accounts of disease in papyri and on ostraka along with pictorial and statuary representations of persons the evidence of health and disease can be gleaned. Among the major health problems in ancient Egypt were

- parasitic diseases, esp. Schistosomiasis (bilharzia) caused by immersion in water infested by free swimming worms, Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm) caused by swallowing infested water, Filariasis caused by mosquitoes, roundworms infesting intestines, tapeworms and malaria

- bacterial and viral infections, esp. tuberculosis, leprosy, tetanus, plague, sepsis and absesses, osteomyelitis infecting bone, smallpox

- deformities, esp. dwarfism, club foot, cleft lip and hydrocephalus

- cancer and other tumours

- nutritional, endocrine and metabolic disorders, esp. obesity, liver disease, malnutrition

- diseases of internal organs- bones and joints

- pains and aches

- disorders of ears, eyes and nose

- disorders of skin (Nunn,1996,64-95)


Heads of mummies

The heads are arranged in the inventory number rather than chronologically so the development of preservation of bodies at Deir el-Medina is summarised here to point out the characteristic features of mummification process that differed during the 19-20th dynasties and during the 21st dynasty.  It was noted by Aidan Dodson (Demarée, 2000, p. 98) that none of the bodies recovered from Deir el-Medina belonging to the latter part of the 18th dynasty seem to have been subject to any preservation treatment other than simple wrapping. In Dodson's view the limited degree of post-mortem treatment explains the lack of canopic equipment in any of those tombs. The bodies were thus left to decay and only skeletons survive (see below the skulls of Sennefer and his wife Neferit). The 19th and 20th dynasties remains from Deir el-Medina showed mummification techniques. The removal of the brain became a regular feature of the process as well as evisceration. The 21st dynasty saw the technical peak of mummification procedures when the embalmers tried to recreate the natural appearance of the deceased. Packing was inserted under the shrivelled skin to restore the fullness of the features. Earth, mud, linen, sawdust, sand, lichen, mixtures of the above or other materials (Taylor,2001,86). The skin was often painted - red colour was used for males and yellow colour for females, corresponding to the artistic tradition.


Inv. No. 15/6
A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 21st dynasty
Height: 20 cm
This well preserved head was excavated by the French Institute and donated to the Anthropological Institute in Prague but remained in possession of Dr. Jindřich Matiegka. After his death the head was donated to the Hrdlička Museum.
The head and parts of the neck are preserved although no linen wrappings survived. The face is remarkably life-like thanks to soft tissues not disintegrating and also thanks to the fact that the artificial eyes, are also still in situ. The eyes are made of white glass with  black round irises in their middle. The x-rays showed that material - perhaps linen - was stuffed in the eye socket to keep the artificial eyes in place.

The fullness of the cheeks was achieved by stuffing soil behind them, the examination revealed (Strouhal,1980,60). The nose is well preserved but both lips are missing, revealing both sets of teeth, that were not badly abraded. The entire top of the head lacks any soft tissue or remains of hair the skull being completely exposed there. The anthropologists considered the good state of the teeth and the bone structure of the forehead and the chin and to arrive at the conclusion that the head most probably belonged to a woman, who died aged between 30-40 years (Strouhal,1980,60).

Inv. No. 15/7

A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 21st dynasty

Height: 23 cm

The head and the neck are well preserved. Soft tissues as well as both ears and the lips have survived. Both cheeks were modelled to have a full appearance - fillings of earth were inserted into the mouth and beyond the cheeks during the mummification process. The process resulted in the skin cracking in several places where the incisions were made. The x-rays showed shadows over the whole face area, which is how it was established the artificial filling was under the skin (Strouhal,1980,71). The face was painted with red pigment and the entire head was covered by efflorescent salt (Matiegková,1929,252). Linen bundles were apparent in both nasal passages.


As the cranial cavity also displayed similar density of filling on the x-ray, it was established that the same filling as for the face was used, rather than the usual filling of resin, which would display a denser shadow. The fact, that most of the head was filled with earth also explained the heaviness of the head.

Very few pieces of linen survived on the surface. Some remains of hair are preserved.
The radiological examination revealed normal structure of bone tissue. The teeth, that cannot be seen, because the mouth is closed, showed insignificant abrasion on the x-ray (Strouhal,1980,71). Considering the fact, that the connective tissue joint on top of the head could not be seen due to the presence of the fillings, but the frontal connective tissue joint is open, together with the state of the teeth, the anthropologists concluded the head belonged to a male adult, who died between his 25th and 35th year.


Inv. No. 15/8

A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 21st dynasty

Height: 24 cm

The soft tissues of the head and the neck are well preserved, but the nose and the ears are missing. The skin on the face displays yellowish brown colour due to artificial colouring applied during the mummification process. Remains of straight hair are preserved. Both eye lids are open, but the artificial eye, present in the left socket, is missing in the right socket. It is apparent on the x-ray that both artificial eyes were supported by bundles of linen placed in the sockets (Strouhal,1980,73). Both cheeks display as full due to fillings inserted into them. The right cheek has got a part missing, the left cheek is slightly cracked in the place where the incision for the filling was made. The mouth is open and the teeth are visible. Thex-ray showed that they are only lightly abraded (Strouhal,1980,74).

Considering the features of the skull and the fact that some connective tissue joints are still open and the state of the teeth, the anthropologists arrived at a conclusion, that the head belonged to a female, who died aged between 30-50years.

Inv. No. 15/10
A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 18th-20th dynasties
The head and a part of the neck are mostly covered in linen bandages missing mainly in the areas of the nose, the mouth and the chin. The exposed parts display skeleton rather than soft tissue. The x-ray revealed that the eye sockets are empty, no artificial eyes were inserted. The examinations revealed a normal bone structure and highly abraded and defective teeth. In the anthropologists' opinion, the head belonged to a man who died in his 50s.
The teeth were misaligned.


Inv. No. 15/11
A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 18th-20th dynasties
Height: 26 cm
The head and a part of the neck are wrapped in woven linen. The bandages are missing on the right side of the face. The exposed bone and eye socket do not display soft tissue or an artificial eye. The neck area carries remains of black resin.
Normal structure of bone tissue was determined by the examination and the teeth were found to be defective and highly abraded. The anthropologists considered the vaulted forehead, the wide prominent chin and the robust bones to have belonged to a man, who died aged between 30 to 50 years. They found that one of the vertebrae displayed a smooth outgrow of immature bone (Strouhal,1980,58), which often formed as a result of degenerative disease.
During his lifetime this person suffered from a musculoskeletal disorder.

The skin on the face was painted reddish brown resinous varnish mixed with salt (Matiegková,1929,253) during the mummification. The eye brows were marked in black. Both eyes have bundles of linen inserted into the sockets between the lids. The linen is painted white on the surface with black dots for irises. Several cracks appear in the surface of the skin. They were caused by incisions made to insert the filling behind the lips and cheeks (Strouhal,1980,74). The fillings are a mixture of resin, salt, saw dust etc. (Matiegková,1929,253). The mouth is closed. During the examination it was observed that there is a short beard and moustache preserved on both the chin and the upper lip. The x-ray showed shadows in the bottom part of the face (fillings) as well as in the cranial cavity. The shadow in the cavity does not seem very dense, it was concluded that earth and sand were used as a filler rather than resin (Strouhal,1980,75). The radiographs revealed that the bone tissue had a normal structure. The teeth were not visible on the x-ray due to the fillings, hence their condition could not be determined. Degenerative changes on the spine were observed in the form of an osteophyte. Osteophytes form naturally on the back of the spine as a person gets older. They do not usually cause back pains, but instead are the common symptom of a deeper problem. However, they can impinge on nerves that leave the spine for other parts of the body. This can cause pain in both upper and lower limbs and a numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet. ( anthropologists suggested the age at death at between 30-40 years. The head belonged to a male.

Inv. No. 15/12
A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 21st dynasty
Height: 23 cm
The head and the neck are preserved in an exceptionally life like state. The linen bandages are wrapped around the head and the neck, although not in their original position. During examination during the early 1970s the bandages were lifted to reveal remains of short hair and both ears, then they were put back in a slightly different way, comparing them to the photograph taken at the time of writing the article in 1929, when the head was being examined by Ludmila Matiegková. The face is bandage free. The soft tissue is very well preserved apart from the nose which is missing completely. The damage to the nose must have happened after both examinations took place as in both reports by Matiegková and Strouhal's team it was firmly present in the  photographs of the head as well
as in the reports.


Inv. No. 15/13
A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 21st dynasty
Height: 23 cm
Head, neck and the upper part of the chest are very well preserved with no traces of the original wrappings. Both ears and nose survived. The skin on the face displays dark tone, almost greyish/black, due to colouring during the mummification process. Traces of gilding are evident.

The mouth is closed as well as both eyes. The x-ray shows there are cavities behind the eye lids - originally the artificial eyes must have been in place (Strouhal,1980,75).

Thick curly hair is preserved on the head.
No fillings are shown in the cranial cavity.
The structure of the bone tissue was found
to be normal. Although the connective tissue
on the skull was found still opened, it was
diagnosed as persistent frontal suture. The
age was estimated by the anthropologists as
15-17 years. The head probably belonged to
a male.


Inv. No. 15/14
A mummified head from Deir el-Medina dated to the 21st dynasty
Height of the head: 16 cm
Height of the head together with the shoulder: 21 cm
The head, neck, vertebrae, thorax, rib and a right shoulder survive together with few wrappings on top of the head. The soft tissues and the right ear are well preserved. The facial features can be recognised. Both eyes are closed while the mouth is slightly open, a few teeth can be seen. The skin appears to be black due to varnish with resin being applied during the mummification process (Matiegková,1929,252).
The x-rays showed shadows at the bottom half of the face while there were no shadows in the cranial cavity,
meaning the cheeks are filled and the cavity was left empty. Although the eye sockets are empty, the arching of the upper lids suggests they were filled during the mummification process (Strouhal,1980,72).
Based on the advancement of the teeth and on the fact, that the appearance of the connective tissue joint on the skull, the anthropologists suggested the age of the infant between 2-3 years.

Infant deaths
Life in ancient Egypt had many dangers for babies and infants, from illnesses and infections to bites by insects and snakes.

The infant mortality was high, as it is still is these days in countries with insufficient medical help. Numerous child burials were uncovered either within ancient Egyptian cemeteries or within the floors of living quarters.
In the area of the Eastern cemetery at Deir el-Medina more than 100 burials belonging to infants were excavated. Their remains were laid out in domestic pottery, in baskets, in chests, boxes and some in wooden coffins (Janssen,2007,19).


We have looked at the past and evaluated the present state of the remains of the inhabitants of Deir el-Medina housed at the Hrdlička Museum of Anthropology. What does the future hold? In the last 2 decades radiologists have been using tomography scans (CT scans) to learn more about ancient bodies. This modern medical technology, conducts imaging by sections when hundreds of images of the body are taken to be joined together in 3-D views using computers. This high tech tool can differentiate among various types of bone and soft tissue and produce clearer images than conventional x-ray that was used
in 1970s to examine the remains. If in the future any of the complete mummies of the heads could undergo CT scan, not only could this non-invasive examination offer further clues to the mummies themselves but taking advantage of reconstructed 3-D images the faces could also be recreated and one could really look into a face emerging from behind the curtain of the past.

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London : Golden House Publications, 2007.
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