Researchers Sure Love Putting Mummies in CT Scans

Some of the more interesting mummified things we've CT scanned.

Oct 31 2014, 6:00pm

Image: Washington University in St Louis/YouTube

A reminder that Halloween characters weren't invented with fancy dress stores and seasonal Haribo packets: Most have their roots far back in history, and many are definitively based on fact. None more so than the mummy.

And given that the whole point of mummification is preservation, the real things are still around today, hanging out in museums and occasionally disturbed in newly discovered tombs.

Just ahead of All Hallows' Eve, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine shed some light on three Egyptian mummies still sealed in sarcophagi by putting them in a CT scanner. Check out some of the scans of the mummies, which were on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum and Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum:

The Washington University researchers haven't fully analysed the results, but said in a release that one mummy still had a brain and lungs (often removed from mummies), as well as something around her head that could be a decorative item. Another fared less well, with his head dislodged, possibly by tomb raiders.

It's not the first time a mummy has found itself examined beneath the bandages in a CT scan. Here are some of the most interesting recent discoveries:

Gebelein man

This mummy in the British Museum was CT scanned in 2012. Known as Gebelein man (named after the site in Egypt where he was found), the mummy was buried and naturally preserved mummy around 3500 BC. You might think of mummies as typically enclosed in ornately decorated chambers, but hot and dry sand does the job too. Curator Daniel Antoine said they found out that the dude was only 18-21 years old when he died by being stabbed in the back.


Image:  The Lancet/Trustees of the British Museum

Also from the British Museum, this mummified Egyptian woman, described in a paper in the Lancet as the daughter of a high-ranking priest, was scanned earlier this year alongside seven other mummies as part of the museum's exhibition "Ancient Lives, New Discoveries." The scan revealed that Tamut, as her name is abbreviated to, had a stone amulet on her chest thought to "prevent the owner's heart from revealing his or her sins to the gods when it was weighed at the day of judgment."

The real fake foetus mummy

Image: Swansea University Egypt Centre

A tiny mummy was scanned earlier this year by the Egypt Centre at Swansea University, even though some didn't think it was a mummy at all. The hieroglyphs on the cartonnage were unreadable, leading some to think it was a fake, but the scan showed there was indeed a tiny mummy inside—of a 12-14-week-old foetus.

Cat mummies

Image:  Mario Sanchez/Wikimedia

It wasn't only humans who were intentionally mummified. The cats above are Egyptian mummies from the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum has an ace video of a CT scan that strips one of its own cat mummies down to the skeleton. It won't have been a domestic moggy like we have today; most of the cats in the museum's collection are a type of wild cat, Felis silvestris.

Baby mammoth mummies

Even more exciting than cats, and probably a scarier choice for a Halloween costume, are baby woolly mammoths, two of which were analysed this summer by researchers at the University of Michigan. Of course, these weren't wrapped up all pretty like the cats; they were frozen into mummification. Scans revealed that Lyuba here died of suffocation in a lake.