Home > Radiology > Tomb ray-der: Student uses Manchester Royal Infirmary scanner to uncover secrets of Egyptian mummies

Tomb ray-der: Student uses Manchester Royal Infirmary scanner to uncover secrets of Egyptian mummies

August 26, 2012

EGYPT UNCOVERED: One of the ancient mummies is put through the body scanner at the MRI

A student has uncovered the 3,000-year-old secrets of seven Egyptian mummies – after scanning them at the MRI.

Abeer Helmi was stunned when curators at the British Museum in London agreed to loan out the priceless artefacts for her research project.

Curators drove the mummies 200 miles north to be tested in a CT scanner, designed for examining hospital patients.

The Manchester University researcher and doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary used modern technology to see inside the mummies’ bandages without disturbing the delicate bodies or their wrappings.

The powerful rays were able to shed light on the techniques used to preserve the bodies, along with information about their diets and health.

The scans also revealed metals amulets and charms, concealed inside the wrappings, which are thought to have been placed there to protect the dead during their journey to the underworld.

The seven bodies – aged from about 12 to their mid-50s – date from around 900BC when mummification technology was at its peak. They were shipped to Manchester by a specialist delivery firm, escorted by a member of museum staff. The scans were undertaken over several weeks, during evenings and weekends when the scanner was not being used by patients.

Egyptian-born PhD student Abeer, 42, who worked at Cairo Museum before studying in Manchester, impressed bosses at the British Museum with her knowledge of the ancient world.

She said the detailed images had improved knowledge on the period. She said: “We had to hire a company that specialised in transporting works of art to drive them to the hospital in two shipments. They were accompanied at all times by a member of staff. They are very delicate and still covered in their casing. Using this technique allowed us see exactly how they were wrapped and also learn about their health. We spotted wooden struts inside the wrappings which were used to support the bodies after death and abnormalities in two of the mummies.”

Doctors at the MRI have been working closely with Manchester University experts for the last 30 years.

All 35 human mummies in the Manchester Museum’s collection have already been scanned by experts at the hospital, along with dozens of mummified animals in the museum’s collection.

And renowned Egyptologist Prof Rosalie David, who supervised the study, said: “This type of technique is now often used on mummified remains. But the fact the British Museum was prepared to transport these artefacts is a mark of how highly the team at Manchester Royal Infirmary is regarded.”

Judith Adams, a consultant radiologist at the hospital who helped Abeer with her work, joked: “It’s something of a change from our normal patients. But we’ve had a long-standing collaboration with Egyptologists in Manchester.

“We’re able to look at the bodies from a medical point of view and give our opinion on how these people lived and their health in general.”

 

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Categories: Radiology
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