Tag Archives: CT-scanning mummies

Animal Mummies #5: Seeing inside the wrappings

A Liverpool kitty in the CT-scanner

A Liverpool kitty in the CT-scanner

X-rays have been used as a method by which to see inside bodies since they were discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895. Some of the first ‘patients’ to be studied in this way were Egyptian animal mummies which were not able to be damaged by the somewhat unknown effects of radiation. Since this time, radiography has become increasingly invaluable in clinical practice on living humans and animals, but it has become one of the primary research techniques to investigate the contents of wrapped mummy bundles, preventing the need to unwrap, and ultimately destroy them.

Radiography has been widely used at the University of Manchester since the 1970s to study the mummy collections. From these early stages when plain film X-rays were the main method, the technology involved in radiography has developed quickly and we are now able to use much more advanced technologies to gain a better understanding of mummies and how they were made. Although CT scans have been around since 1979, their routine use on mummies has really occurred since 2000. Advances made since 2005 with the introduction of fully digitised methods have reduced the complexity of the X-ray and CT process and have made it much easier to share results with fellow researchers around the world.

Inside a kestrel mummy

Inside a kestrel mummy

As part of the Ancient Egyptian Bio Bank project, over 300 animal mummies have been studied through a collaborative partnership with the Central Manchester NHS Trust. The Trust have allowed access to radiography facilities and experienced staff outside of clinic hours to enable this work to take place. In fact, the mummies always attract a lot of attention when they go to the hospital with patients and staff alike taking a keen interest in the rather unusual patients! We tend to study mummies in groups of around 20 mummies at a time, simply because it is logistically difficult to deal with more than this in one session. We always have experienced conservators and curators on hand to ensure that the mummies are kept safe during the process. Most mummies do not need to be handled at the hospital at all as they can be scanned in their protective boxes which minimises the dangers of handling and keeps movement to a minimum.

2D30134F-BC22-454F-BF80-D15C70FAABA8During their visit to the hospital, all mummies are given a full investigation using X-rays and they also receive a full body CT scan. X-rays are taken in two opposing angles to ensure that we obtain the maximum amount of information about each specimen. In some cases, the contents are lying at an unusual angle within the bundle which means that further images are required taken at oblique angles to capture any missing information. X-rays have the advantage of giving excellent spatial resolution of the contents, but they do suffer from magnification and superimposition of structures which can make interpretation difficult. The advantage of a CT scan is that images are obtained from multiple directions which eliminates these issues and allows for direct measurement of bones and increases our chances of identifying anomalies. The data obtained through the CT process to 3D print anomalies from inside mummies, giving the ability to handle them directly and compare them to skeletal collections. CT has proved successful in identifying non-skeletal material within mummy bundles such as egg-shell, feather and reeds which often don’t show well on X-ray.

928E7059-C6E8-418F-B615-4EE48CC33D00Clinical radiography is limited by the radiation doses allowed by the equipment. For mummies which reveal interesting anomalies, it is sometimes possible to use industrial CT (micro-CT) where higher radiation is used to obtain better resolution. Some mummies which have appeared ‘empty’ when scanned at the hospital, have revealed skeletal contents when scanned using this technique. This battery of radiographic techniques provides the best available method to see inside mummies non-invasively.

Find out more in the exhibition (including an interactive micro-CT scanner!), Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed, at Manchester Museum from 8th October 2015..

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New light under old wrappings (II): The temple singer Perenbast

Perenbast about to be CT-scanned at the Manchester Children's Hospital

Perenbast about to be CT-scanned at the Manchester Children’s Hospital

The British Museum opens its latest exhibition, Ancient Lives, New Discoveries, this week. Here in Manchester, which the exhibition acknowledges is the home of mummy studies, we have been carrying out similar research on our 20 human mummies, and many of the discoveries we have made tie in with those presented in the BM exhibition.

Between 1908 and 1909, while clearing the courtyards of some New Kingdom tombs on the Luxor west bank at Qurna, W. M. Flinders Petrie discovered an unopened tomb of “about the 25th Dynasty.” This camped space turned out to contain the burials of a man and a woman, presumably husband and wife, which can now be dated to the 22nd Dynasty based on their funerary provisions and the iconography of their coffins. In addition to the coffins, the burial contained a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure and two shabti boxes for each occupant. Most of the objects are wooden, covered in a black resin, with details on the coffins picked out in yellow and white paint. The assemblage belonging to the male mummy (whose name is not preserved) was sent to Bristol Museum and the group belonging to his (presumed) wife, a temple singer named Perenbast, came to Manchester.

Perenbast and her presumed husland after Petrie's discovery of their tomb

Perenbast (right) and her presumed husband after Petrie’s discovery of their tomb

X-rays taken in the 1970s as part of the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project revealed some dense shapes in the area of Perenbast’s chest. These were identified as likely to be amulets but it was only in 2013 that their precise nature was understood. Using the latest CT-scanning technology, it is possible to visualise the objects at high resolution. What appeared as grainy masses on the older X-rays were revealed to be a plaque on the left side of the abdomen, used to cover the embalming incision, a scarab beetle and detached wings, and an ‘ib-shaped’ heart amulet. It is not clear if these objects are made of metal, faience, or perhaps wax.

Scan showing heart scarab and 'ib' amulets. (Image courtesy of Professor J Adams, Central Manchester Healthcare Trust)

Scan showing heart scarab and ‘ib’ amulets. (Image courtesy of Professor J Adams, Central Manchester Healthcare Trust)

It is now also possible to isolate objects such as amulets and print then in three dimensions, using resin. Such 3D renderings are displayed in the BM show and are planned for Perenbast to enable visitors to handle copies of objects which will never be seen for real. It would be interesting to know what, if any, similar amulets occur in the wrappings of “Mr. Perenbast” in Bristol.

The “revelation” of the “secrets” of Egyptian mummies – whether through physical unwrapping or more modern non-destructive methods such as CT-scanning – has a perennial favourite with the general public for over 200 years. And for just as long there have been (often circular) arguments about the ethics of investigation and display. In a provocative new book, Christina Riggs, formerly Curator of Egypt and Sudan here at the Manchester Museum, charts (and challenges) our obsession with mummies, evaluating ancient intentions and modern preconceptions.

The response to the latest British Museum exhibition shows that, more than ever, we want to probe underneath the mummy’s bandages in new and visually stimulating ways. The value of the answers these investigations provide depends, I suppose, on the value of the questions we come up with in the first place.

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New light under old wrappings (I): Reinvestigating Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

The mummy and coffins of Asru, an elite lady from 25th-26th Dynasty (c. 750-525 BC) Thebes, were among the earliest additions to what was to become the Manchester Museum collection when they were donated to the Manchester Natural History Society by William and Robert Garnett in 1825. She has already been unwrapped, probably at one of the fashionable ‘mummy unrollings’ of the period. In modern times, Asru proved to be the perfect patient when she was investigated by the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project in the 1970s, because she had suffered from so many ailments – including arthritis, and parasitic infestations such as Strongyloides and Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia).

In 2012, in preparation for the re-opening of our Ancient Worlds galleries, all of the Museum’s 20 complete human mummies – including Asru – were scanned using the most up-to-date technology at the nearby Manchester Children’s hospital. The scans, conducted in collaboration with Professor of Radiology Judith Adams, featured on a number of TV reports but much of the new information derived did not become apparent until the scans had been properly and carefully analysed, sometimes taking months after the scanning session. PhD researcher Robert Loynes was instrumental, bringing his knowledge as a medical practitioner to the study of mummified remains.

Asru. Photo by Paul Cliff.

Asru. Photo by Paul Cliff.

The latest CT-scans confirmed Asru to have been an elderly woman for ancient Egypt, between 50 and 60 years of age at death. Interestingly, there was new evidence of arthritis in her neck, consistent with bearing a heavy weight over a prolonged period. Greater Manchester Police had established in the 1970s that, on the basis of her fingerprints, Asru’s hands and feet showed that she had lived a life of comparative ease. Perhaps what she carried on her head had a ritual rather than practical function?

Most interesting of all was the new information revealed about Asru’s mummification technique. CT-scans confirmed that, like many Egyptian mummies, Asru’s brain had been removed from the skull. Yet, rather than evidencing the standard method of extracting the brain through the nose, Asru’s ethmoid bone was found to be intact. Instead, transorbital excerebration had been performed: the removal of brain matter through the eye sockets. This is known in other cases but appears to have been extremely unusual.

Asru1

Asru’s outer coffin base. Photo by Paul Cliff.

Recently an opportunity also arose to examine Asru’s two coffins more closely, and to read the extensive inscriptions on them. These texts are mainly formulaic prayers for offerings and provide very little in the way of personal information. This is contrast to ideas held when mummies and coffins, like those of Asru, were arriving in the West; collectors believed that the texts were largely biographical and gave detailed accounts of the life of the coffins’ occupant. Such ‘biographies’ that were supplied in displays were often completely fictional, in an attempt to add interest and a humanising gloss to a curiosity. Thus, when Asru (read as ‘Asroni’) was first exhibited she was referred to as a ‘maid of honour in the court of the 20th(!) pharaoh’ – perhaps just because of the prestigious ‘look’ of her mummy and coffins.

Detail of Asru's outer coffin, giving genealogical information

Detail of Asru’s outer coffin, giving genealogical information

Asru’s own name means “Her arm against them”, probably a reference to the protective power of the goddess Mut, consort of the Theban god Amun. This apotropaic formulation is especially typical for non-royal names during the Late Period (c. 750-30 BC). Asru holds no titles and is in fact only ever designated ‘Lady of the House’ (= ‘married woman’) on her coffins. The title ‘temple singer’ may come from confusion with other female mummies in the collection or developed out of her false identity as a ‘handmaiden.’

Most excitingly of all, it has been possible to read the names of her parents. Asru’s mother is identified as the ‘Lady of the House’ Ta-di-amun (‘She whom Amun has given’) and her father was called Pa-kush (‘The Kushite’), a ‘document scribe of the southern region’.

Given that, based on the style of her coffins, Asru is likely to have lived and died at Thebes in the 25-26th Dynasty, this is of potentially great interest. Egypt was ruled by Kushite kings during the 25th Dynasty, who had a stronghold at Thebes. Might Asru’s father have been a part of their administration? If so, she may have been very important indeed. Such findings prove the value of reassessing evidence which may already seem well-known.

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Curator’s Diary 30/6/12: CT scanning Asru … and a crocodile mummy!

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Over the past few weeks we have been filming short clips to appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries, and in digital content to connect with them. This week we filmed Dr. Roberta Mazza of the University of Manchester talking about Egypt in Late Antiquity, in the beautiful surroundings of the John Rylands library. I am conscious, though, that I promised a follow-up post to news of another filming session, CT-scanning the mummies.

As part of a larger project, led by Profs Rosalie David and Judith Adams, to CT-scan all our mummies with the latest technology at the Manchester Children’s Hospital, one day last month we took one of the museum’s best loved mummies for a state-of-the-art examination.

Asru, already unwrapped, and her two finely decorated coffins were the first significant additions to the Manchester Egyptology collection. They were donated in 1825 by E. and W. Garrett to what was then the Manchester Natural History Society collection. Mentions of the Theban god ‘Amun’ make it probable that her burial was originally located on Luxor’s west bank. Stylistically, her coffins date to the 25th Dynasty (c. 750-664 BC)

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Asru has enjoyed a surprising afterlife. She was an early subject of the Manchester Mummy Project, and proved a perfect patient. Using a pioneering range of non-destructive scientific techniques, the Project showed that in life Asru had suffered from a number of diseases. Among her complaints would have been anaemia, coughing, stomach ache and diarrhoea, caused by a parasitic bladder infection – called schistosomiasisis (or bilharzia) and other worm infestations, probably Strongyloides. Despite these ailments – and, judging from her fine coffins and mummification techniques, because of her wealth – she had lived to be around 50 at death – elderly for an ancient Egyptian! When the Greater Manchester Police took Asru’s finger- and toeprints (another first, for a 2700 year old body), they showed none of the wear and tear that most ordinary Egyptians would have expected.  Her duties as a chantress cannot have been arduous.

Following in a proud Manchester tradition: Jenny, Lidija, Campbell, Steph, Sam, Steve, and John, with mummified crocodile.

By conducting CT-scans using the latest technology, we hope to find out even more about Asru – things which, in the 1970s and 80s when she was first examined, were not possible to establish.

X-ray of the crocodile’s head

While scanning Asru, we also took the opportunity to subject one of our crocodile mummies to further examination. Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton, colleagues from Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, were interested to know more about what appeared to be a (fatal?) blow to the head. Results of the CT scans have not yet become available, but promise to give us much more information on the lives of people – and animals – in ancient Egypt. Results will be featured in digital content in the new Ancient Worlds gallery, and further collaborative research is expected to take place soon.

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