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Egyptian mummies in the spotlight at Mater

Category: Health 21-Mar-2013 12:44 PM

Egyptian mummies in the spotlight at Mater Staff from Queensland X-Ray at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane were last year tasked with scanning four of the British Museum’s prized Egyptian mummies following an exhibition at the Queensland Museum.

When Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb closed to the public in late October, more than 200 000 people had visited the Queensland Museum to see the 3000 year old mummies.

However the exhibition of these historical pieces was not over with staff from Queensland X-Ray given a special viewing of what lay within the historical sarcophagi.

The team—led by senior radiographer Bede Yates—were tasked with using computerised tomography (CT) to scan four of the British Museum’s prized possessions.

“The British Museum was curious to check on the condition of the mummies after travel and will use the scans to complete high resolution datasets to create interactive displays on life-sized computer screens when the mummies have been returned to the museum,” Mr Yates said.

For many years, the only way to extract data from Egyptian mummies was to unwrap them—a destructive and irreversible process.

However, modern non-invasive imaging techniques such as X-rays and CT scanning have made it possible to look inside the mummy casings without disturbing the wrappings.

Three of the mummies scanned by the Mater team were in cases known as cartonnages made of a light-weight material of linen or papyrus scraps hardened with plaster and/or resin—often decorated in bright colours.

“One of the mummies we scanned, known as Nesperannub, featured in a 3D film at the Queensland Museum exhibition.”

Queensland Museum’s Cultural Environments Collection Manager Nick Hadnutt said the scanning was ‘a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal’ with the 3000-year-old mummies.

“It was the first time they had travelled so far, so it was natural to try and understand the impact the travel may have had on them,” Mr Hadnutt said.

The team set about scanning the mummies to see what was happening inside the sarcophagi and whether the individuals had moved within their casing. They also wanted to check if any of the amulets placed on the mummies during the mummification process had moved.

“We found that the little girl mummy was much smaller than previously thought, meaning the British Museum can now conduct further research on why that might have been,” Mr Hadnutt said.

“It is quite astounding to consider the journey that these mummies have taken from the tombs of ancient Egypt to the halls of our health system here in Queensland.”

Queensland Museum Chief Executive Officer Dr Ian Galloway said the results of the CT scan would be analysed by the experts at the British Museum to verify that the condition of the mummies had been maintained since previous scanning and investigations.


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Contact for this Release

Jacqueline Hayes
Public Affairs Manager

tel07 3163 2378

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