Video: Scanning mummies' history

By George Lewis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/13/2005 7:37:28 PM ET 2005-04-13T23:37:28

There's a unique meeting taking place in southern California between ancient mummies and 21st century medical technology. The mummies are getting their pictures taken using the very latest techniques in C.T. scanning — the kind of thing that's used to perform full body scans on living people.

"It is pretty amazing," says Peter Keller, president of the Bowers Museum. "The detail, it is just extraordinary to be able to see the mummy in its entirety. And all of a sudden just start unwrapping it, going down through the mummy and seeing every little detail, including amulets and other things that were put into the case with the mummy."

The public will be able to see the mummies and the computerized images starting Sunday, April 17 at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

The mummies are part of a collection of Egyptian antiquities from the British Museum. This is the first time a group of them have been examined using today's computerized X-ray scanning techniques.

Earlier this year, a team in Egypt scanned the body of the ancient ruler, King Tut, and laid to rest an old rumor about him — that he was murdered. The scan showed he died from natural causes.

"The value of scanning mummies is to perform a virtual autopsy, without damaging or touching or unwrapping the mummy," says radiologist M. Linda Sutherland.

In southern California, as these latest scans are analyzed, the experts are beginning to solve some other mysteries, such as the age of a small mummy originally thought to be an infant. The highly detailed images of the child's teeth showed it was no longer a baby.

"The secondary molars were about to erupt, so we were able to tell this individual was about four to five-years-old," says radiologist Daniel Weissberg.

The ancient Egyptians were mummified in hopes of becoming immortal. They had no idea they would achieve electronic immortality, thousands of years later, and thousands of miles from home.

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