Stanford examines 2,000-year-old mummy

August 20, 2009 10:37:16 PM PDT
Cutting-edge technology at Stanford University is giving researchers a peek at something that hasn't been seen in 2,000 years. The patient is an ancient Egyptian priest and it was unveiled on Thursday, without even touching it.

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Even as ancient Egyptian mummies go, this one is unusual. He was a priest to the gods of fertility and eternity in the city of Akhmim.

"We basically have the mummy of someone who is a priest which is very way cool because we are able to find out how such a person himself would be buried," says Jonathan Elias from the Akhmim Mummy Studies.

21st century medical technology at Stanford University is like a time machine; the imaging equipment is able to turn back the clock 2,000 years. The power of the CT scan is that it allows researchers to view the mummy from the inside out, without ever unwrapping the dressings.

Radiologists are able to use the system to produce thousands of high resolution three dimensional pictures.

"What we really hope is that we are looking at the scarabs or inclusions in the mummy that will see details that you wouldn't be able to see on a normal CT scanner," says Stanford Physicist Rebecca Fahrig, Ph.D.

The images unlock mysteries of the young priest's life and death. A beetle scarab on the forehead is not unusual, but the double plume amulet placed over right eye is more intriguing.

"It gives us some indication where the magic was being concentrated for purposes of resurrection," says Fahrig.

The ancient patient was also clutching an item in his left hand, which is something new to those studying mummies and something they need to study further before making any conclusions. The images of the skull will be used to build a clay reconstruction of the face which will soon go on display in San Francisco.

"I love the connection of science and medicine and history and art and culture and it all comes together with the scanning of this mummy," says Renee Dreyfus, the museum curator.

The mummy and some of its just discovered secrets can be seen at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco beginning October 31st through the summer of 2010.

LINKS:
Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine
Radiologists as artists: Critics love mummy scans
Mummy's secrets revealed
Mummy's secrets under scrutiny

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