State-of-the-art CT scanning is giving researchers at the British Museum the opportunity to digitally unwrap ancient Egyptian mummies. The non-invasive technique preserves the delicate remains, but has given new insights into mummification and revealed the faces of ancient Egyptians for the first time in thousands of years. Tara Cleary reports.
STORY: This casket has been sealed shut for thousands of years. It contains the mummified body of a singer from ancient Thebes, named Tamut, who lived around 900 BC. The British Museum in London has discovered a lot more about her, using 3D CT scans to peel away virtually the layers covering the mummy. Curator of physical anthropology at the museum, Daniel Antoine, says the scans revealed that Tamut suffered from high cholesterol. SOUNDBITE: DR DANIEL ANTOINE, CURATOR OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, THE BRITISH MUSEUM, SAYING (English): “The arteries in her leg have very large plaque deposits, which people suffer from today. In the case of Tamut, these have hardened and were clearly detectable on the CT scan data. So, even though she lived several thousand years ago, she appears to have suffered from diseases we suffer from today.” Antoine says the team examined eight mummies and, in most of them, learned how old they were when they died, their previous state of health, and the unique body preservation methods of the time. SOUNDBITE: DR DANIEL ANTOINE, CURATOR OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, THE BRITISH MUSEUM, SAYING (English): “We’ve been able to use the latest generation of CT scanner called a dual energy CT scanner which, instead of using one x-ray, uses two x-rays to rapidly rotate around the body allowing us to image for the first time in equal clarity both the really thin part of the body such as the textiles and the skin, also the really thick parts such as the bone.” Another technological bonus is 3D printing, which enabled the museum to create life-size models of amulets placed inside the coffins, as well as mummy body parts, like this man’s abscess-infected jawbone. SOUNDBITE: DR DANIEL ANTOINE, CURATOR OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, THE BRITISH MUSEUM, SAYING (English): “He had several dental abscesses in his mandible. And I think this is the first time that 3D printing has been used to actually print part of a mummy. And the reason we decided to print part of a mummy is to reveal the devastating effect that these dental abscesses can have.” The exhibition called “Ancient lives, new discoveries” is on display in London until November 30th. And the museum hopes that, with the help of science, it will virtually bring these ancient mummies to life for visitors.