Science & Environment

Scans bring new insights into lives of Egyptian mummies

The British Museum has carried out scans on eight Egyptian mummies, revealing unprecedented details about these people.

Mummy Image copyright British Museum

Never before has anyone seen mummy hair, muscles and bone at such fine resolution.

It is enabling scientists for the first time to tell their age of the mummies, what they ate, the diseases they suffered from, and how they died.

Each mummy was put into a state-of-the-art CT scanner. Researchers probed them layer by layer to build up a high-definition 3D picture of each one. Once digitised, British Museum staff were then able to peel away each layer, to see the face of the person underneath the bandages.

Image copyright British Museum

John Taylor, who is the museum's curator of Ancient Egypt and Sudan said he was "stunned" when he saw the images. "It's as if you switched a light on in a dark room and things jump out with a clarity where you are able to find out what the life experiences of these people really were," he told BBC News.

Image copyright British Museum

The researchers were able to see muscles and even arteries. They noted some seemed clogged with fatty deposits, suggesting these particular people ate rich food and perhaps suffered and possibly died of coronary heart disease.

Image copyright British Museum

Peeling away the muscle, researchers were able to see the skeletons in unprecedented detail. They were able to estimate the age of the individuals from their pelvis and their dental structure. Many of them had bad teeth with signs of severe abscesses that must have been very painful on a daily basis.

Image copyright British Museum

One scan shows a spatula - shown in green - left inside the individual's skull.

The tool was to be used to pull the brain out through the nostrils, but a large chunk of brain - shown in blue - was left inside, along with the tool.

It is evidence perhaps of a slip-shod job that was covered up by the embalming practitioners.

The mummies for this project were selected from the British Museum's collection.

They cover a time span of 4,000 years, from 3,500 BC to AD 700.

The individuals all lived in the Nile Valley

An exhibition of the mummies is on display at the British Museum between 22 May and 30 November.

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Media captionPallab Ghosh takes a look at the unprecedented images, produced by a state-of-the-art CT scanner

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