Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital have become the first to use a sophisticated computer program to enhance images of a 2,500-year-old mummy in three dimensions, said a radiology professor.
Dr. Elliot Fishman, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine associate professor of radiology, and his staff used the process to take nearly 500 cross-sectional images of the mummy Thursday, using a modern CT scanner, a device that takes thin cross-sectional X-ray images of the body from 360 degrees.The mummy of a petite woman was originally brought to the United States in the 1870s by the Rev. John Franklin Goucher, for whom Goucher College in Baltimore is named.
"We're excited about learning more," said Dr. Betsy Bryan, professor of Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University. "I guess she's taken on a personality for us. She's become a real person.
"And by using X-rays and the CT scanner we can leave her intact. We'll still have a very well-preserved mummy."
X-rays already taken at the hospital this year revealed that the mummy was female and a mother, about 50 years old when she died, weighed 105 pounds and had good hipbones and teeth, except for a missing molar and an impacted wisdom tooth.
Early results of the CT scan showed two packages in the mummy's chest and an unexplained hole in her head, Dr. Fishman said.
The mummification process, first practiced as early as 3,000 B.C., had evolved by the time the woman died, around 500 B.C. of unknown causes, into a complicated ritual lasting more than two months, Dr. Bryan said.
The brain was removed through the nostrils to keep the head intact. Internal organs were removed, with the heart often returned to the chest cavity, after preserving with a salt known as natron. The remains were wrapped in linen, coated with resin and placed in a coffin.
The Johns Hopkins mummy was not of royal birth, so burial in a pyramid was out of the question, said Dr. Bryan. "She was probably middle-class, buried in a wooden sarcophagus in the desert."
There was some damage from grave robbers. Her tightly crossed arms and wrists once wore bracelets and the robbers slashed her chest in removing the jewelry, Dr. Bryan said.
But "her skin is still there, her hair and everything," said Dr. Giraud Foster, an associate profesor of obstetrics and gynecology at the JHU medical school. "We're amazed at how well she is (preserved)."