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Winged heart scarab, c. 400-200 BC

Tantalizing clues to life and death in ancient Egypt lie hidden under the wrappings of these ancient mummies.

Today, without loosening a single linen bandage, scientists examine mummies carefully preserved bodies and skeletons with the same noninvasive tools used to diagnose medical problems in modern patients.

Advanced imagining technologies—X-ray radiography, two-dimensional computerized tomography scans (2D CT), and three-dimensional computerized tomography scans (3D CT)—can determine the mummy's age, sex, general health, and sometimes, even how the person died.

Video >>
By stacking the thousands of layers of CT scan images, you can see into the body of this 2000 year old male, Egyptian mummy. Video produced by Adam Metallo and Vince Rossi of Smithsonian Digitization with Dr. David Hunt, NMNH.

Who's Under Wraps?

side view of a mummy

When this mummy came to this Museum, it was partially unwrapped, and very little was known about its history or the individual inside.

Using 2D and 3D CT scans, Museum scientists found that the brain and major organs were removed and rolls of linen filled out the abdominal cavity. Evidence of superior mummification, these features indicate the deceased belonged to the upper class. The crossed arms and brown wrappings were common mummification practices beginning about 500 BC.

With the organs removed, embalmers slid three bundles of linen into the abdomen to recreate its natural shape. You can see four of them clearly in this 3D CT scan.

a frontal 3D CT scan of a mummy

This frontal 3D CT scan shows the mummy's skull, spine, ribs, pelvis, and upper leg bones. The body exhibits few signs of arthritis, a clue that the deceased never took on heavy manual labor.

Male or Female?

Scientists used casts and images of male and female pelvises and skulls to determing this mummy's sex. Here is what they discovered:

CT image of mummy's pelvis

Look at the mummy's relatively shorter pubic bone, narrow sub-public angle, triangular pelvic inlet, non-flared ischial tuberosities, and narrow sciatic notch.

These are all MALE characteristics.

CT image of mummy's skull

Can you tell that the mummy has a prominent brow ridge, big cheek bones, a sloping forehead, and a squared-off, projecting chin?

These are all MALE characteristics.

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