Curator’s Diary 7/5/12: CT-scanning the mummies (I)

Mummy 1767 is prepared for CT-scanning

Mummy 1767 is prepared for CT-scanning

Last week I followed in a proud Manchester Museum tradition when I accompanied four of our mummies to the Manchester University Children’s Hospital to be CT-scanned. The use of Computed Tomography (CT) has become an established method of non-invasive investigation of Egyptian human remains. The current work is part of a wider programme of investigation, using state-of-the-art methods, undertaken on the Museum’s Egyptian mummies by Prof. Rosalie David, former Egyptology curator at the Museum and authority on mummy studies, and Prof. Judith Adams, Professor of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Manchester’s School of Medicine. It was thanks to Judith’s previous work with Rosalie – and continuing interest in mummies – that we were able to book our ‘patients’ in when the scanner was not otherwise in use.

Beneath the bandages: our first glimpse inside 1767

Beneath the bandages: our first glimpse inside 1767

On Wednesday evening we took the first two subjects in the study on the short journey from the Museum over to the hospital. These were the mummies of two Graeco-Roman gentlemen (Acc. nos. 1767 and 1768) which, because of their elaborate wrapping and in-situ portraits, made are ideal candidates for the procedure. Both mummies will feature in the new Ancient Worlds galleries and we were keen to discover something more about these unnamed men – their conditions in life and age at death. It is planned that the CT data will be given to a facial reconstruction specialist – another Manchester-pioneered technique – to compare the faces of the two men with their handsome (and idealised?) painted portraits.

Will the face behind the portrait mask of 1768 match its youthful good looks?

Will the face behind the portrait mask of 1768 match its youthful good looks?

The process of scanning the mummies, and the subsequent generation of a detailed cross-section image of them, was remarkably quick. A group of conservators and technicians from the Museum stood alongside nursing staff in absolute silence as the mummies’ bandages were digitally peeled away. The first mummy (1767) didn’t reveal any immediate surprises, though the scan of the second (1768) showed clearly that the body had been wrapped together with a wooden plank, or mummy board. Graeco-Roman mummy boards are often inscribed with religious texts naming the deceased. If the board is indeed inscribed, then the fine detail of the scan – around 0.6 of a millimetre – ought to make it possible to read the texts on it. This would enable the name to be restored to this otherwise anonymous individual, without the removal of a single bandage. Another interesting observation made at this initial stage was that the brains of both men do not appear to have been removed during mummification. This is characteristic of a focus on the outside appearance of the mummy in the Graeco-Roman period, rather than on internal preservation.

Further analysis will reveal more about the men and their mummification techniques, details of which I will post when they become available. The story of the investigation will feature in the Ancient Worlds galleries and on-line.

Next time: CT-scanning the mummy of Asru and a mummified crocodile – Stay tuned!


Filed under Curator's Diary, Egyptian mummies, Research projects

3 responses to “Curator’s Diary 7/5/12: CT-scanning the mummies (I)

  1. Yay mummified crocodile!

  2. chrisegyptmania

    This is so interesting and wonderful not having to disturb the body Wish I could have my mommied finger scanned. so want to know more about it chris

  3. katie

    they look like Von Daniken jobs

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