The British Museum and BMI Shirley Oak Hospital recently joined forces to help unlock the secrets of six ancient mummies ranging in age from 800 to over 2,000 years old. The mummies, part of The British Museum’s permanent collection, underwent CT scans to help peel back their bandages and reveal the secrets of their lives, including their diets, how they lived, worked and ultimately, died.
The radiology team at BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital, led by Radiology Manager Kathy Gunn, offered the use of their equipment to help further the research of The British Museum. The mummies, which were originally from Egypt, Peru and Sudan, were preserved both naturally and by artificial human means. Radiographers and experts from the museum spent the entire day at the hospital carefully unboxing, scanning and analysing their finds to unravel the mummy’s secrets.
On the day the biggest surprises came from a female mummy, who was thought to be headless. The CT scan revealed that the head was attached but tucked forward into her upper chest. Dr Daniel Antoine Curator of Physical Anthropology at The British Museum commented: “This opportunity provided to us by BMI Shirley Oaks Hospital gives The British Museum an unparalleled opportunity to source scientific data that will help us shed light on the physical anthropology, family relationships, life expectancy, nutrition, health, disease and the causes of death of these mummies. The surprises on the day, such as the revelation that our headless mummy has a head, allowed us to answer a lot of questions. But, the revelations and surprises will continue as we now take these images away and continue our research, and further assessments, that will dramatically improve our understanding about how these people lived and died."
Recent advances and improvements in medical imaging technology and diagnostic capabilities in modern medicine allow scientists to look at ancient artefacts in a whole new light. For many years, the only way to extract data from Egyptian mummies was to unwrap them, a destructive and irreversible process. However, recent advances in the field of non-invasive imaging techniques, such as CT scans, have made it possible to look inside a mummy without disturbing the wrappings in any way. Using data from the scans and after the radiographer’s manipulation, the British Museum’s team were instantly able to virtually unwrap their mummy’s and embark on a 3D journey within the body, seeing every feature and secret hidden beneath the bandages and skin.
Radiology Manager Kathy Gunn said, “We were delighted when The British Museum accepted our offer to help them with their on-going research. On our patients, we would use this CT imaging technology to help us detect vascular lesions, infections, tumours, calcifications, haemorrhage, bone/organs trauma, genetic anomalies and nerve pain conditions. But, the technology we have at the hospital is so advanced that it can also be used to help scientists learn about the lives of people who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”
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