Diagnostic imaging  

CT scans unwrap secrets of British Museum's Egyptian mummies

7 April 2005

CT scan of Egyptian mummy Tjayaasetimu, from Thebes, 900 BC.

Santa Ana, Calif, USA. In conjunction with its new exhibition, Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, the Bowers Museum has conducted the largest collection of CT scans ever performed on Egyptian mummies.

The Bowers Museum, a team of local radiologists and international curators, and GE Healthcare, a unit of General Electric Company (NYSE:GE), announced today the results of computed tomography (CT) scans of six ancient Egyptian mummies from the renowned collections of the British Museum. The mummies are the focus of the Bowers Museum's upcoming landmark exhibition, Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, which opens April 17, 2005.

Radiologists discovered that the adult mummy of a Roman man, possibly from Thebes, who lived approximately 140-180 AD, was buried with all of his internal organs. Dr. M. Linda Sutherland, Fellow of the Bowers Museum and Member of the Board of Directors and Partner of Moran, Rowan & Dorsey (MRD), Inc., a diagnostic radiology group in Orange County, Calif., believes this is possible evidence of early embalming practices.

"Based on the CT scans we performed, we believe this male was embalmed with some type of fluid containing a metal," said Sutherland. "In the images we were able to see high-density spots in his brain, liver and muscles. I believe this new information will help challenge the conventional wisdom of ancient embalming techniques."

The scans performed at the Bowers Museum represent the largest collection of CT scans ever performed on Egyptian mummies. Researchers plan to use the images to determine how these people lived, their age, their overall health, cause of death, and how they preserved their bodies. The whole-body scans of the six mummies will continue to be reviewed and interpreted by MRD Inc. radiologists and British Museum curators.

CT scans and X-rays have been performed on mummies in the past, yet none have employed the advanced technology that was utilized at the Bowers Museum, according to Bowers Museum President Peter Keller.

"At last, the public has had a glimpse into what lies beneath the linen wrappings of these mummies and the ancient practices that have preserved these human remains through the centuries," said Keller.

CT scanning and virtual reality imaging involves acquiring a number of cross-sectional images, or "slices" of the body. Those images are then fed into a workstation that enables radiologists and researchers to see the images in 3-D.

"GE's state-of-the-art CT equipment is enabling noninvasive, high-resolution, three-dimensional views of these ancient treasures," said Gene Saragnese, Vice President and General Manager of the GE's Global Functional and Computed Tomography (FCT) business. "GE is proud to donate the use of our equipment to facilitate this historic event, which is enabling researchers to shed new light on the life and times of our ancient ancestors."

The mummies scanned by GE's LightSpeed CT include:

  • Shepenmehyt
    Shepenmehyt ("Shep") was from Thebes and lived in the 26th Dynasty, about 600 BC. She was a lady of the house or married women who played a musical instrument known as a "sistrum" during rituals in the temple of Amun-Re. "Shep" died of unknown causes between the ages of 25 and 40. Her elaborate coffin suggests she came from a high-ranking family. The CT scans provided amazing clarity of the different layers of her mummification process. There are images of her skull that demonstrate intricate vascular groove markings.
  • Unidentified child
    Infant Mummy from Hawara, living around 50 AD and was found in a group of five mummies with painted "portraits." The infant died of unknown causes, and was previously believed to be 18 months old. The new CT scans uncovered dental forensics that age the infant between 4- and 5-years-old. The infant was placed post-mortem in the cartonage case with a broken neck and spine. The radiologists believe the child was buried in a case that was too small for his or her body.
  • Unidentified man
    Mummy of an unidentified man from the Roman Period, about 140-180 AD, probably from Thebes. Unlike the other mummies, the CT scan found that all of the man's organs were intact. High-density spots on the man's brain, liver and musculature throughout his body are indications that the man was embalmed with a type of liquid containing metal.
  • Tjayaasetimu
    Tjayaasetimu ("TJ") from Thebes (see pic above) lived in the 22nd Dynasty, about 900 BC. She was a woman of high rank and was a singer of the interior of Amun. This meant that she provided music or singing during temple rituals at the temple of the God Amun. Singers were required to remain celibate. "TJ" died at age 12 of unknown causes. The CT scans found "TJ" in outstanding condition. The CT images showed a large abdominal incision created to remove her organs.
  • Padiamenet
    Padiamenet ("Padi") was from Thebes and lived in the 25th Dynasty, about 700 BC. He worked as an attendant and doorkeeper at the temple of the God "Re" at Thebes. His father, Usermose, held the same job. "Padi" died in his 30s and left one son, who is in a Brussels museum collection. The CT scans showed "Padi's" chest was crushed, perhaps at the time of burial. Radiologists uncovered a wooden pole in "Padi's" chest that had not been detected by earlier X-ray exams.
  • Irthorru
    Irthorru ("Thor") lived in the city of Akhmin, the cult center of the fertility God, "Min," where he was a priest during the 26th dynasty, about 600 BC. Because his father, Ankhwennefer, was "Second Prophet" of the God, it is suggested that "Thor" came from an important family. CT scans uncovered elaborate trappings of his mummy, including beading on his cartonage case. The scanner was able to virtually "take off" the death mask to reveal two large beads on "Thor's" forehead. He died between the ages of 40 and 50 of unknown causes.

See also

Results of Tutankhamen scan revealed

CT scans and DNA tests help unveil mystery of long-lost female pharaoh

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