August 4, 2005

Scan Finds Mummy Between 4 and 6 Years Old

SAN FRANCISCO -- Researchers led by Stanford University and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) have uncovered some of the mysteries surrounding a 2,000-year-old mummy without peeling back any of its bandages, or even opening its gold-plated coffin.

Using a state-of-the-art CT scanner that rotated all the way around the tiny mummified girl, San Jose-based Silicon Graphics Inc. took 60,000 images, and then created 3-D models that allowing scientists to look at her resin-filled body cavities, her facial features, even her baby teeth.

Among their conclusions: the girl was between 4 and 6 years old, and must have been breast-fed until shortly before her death. Researchers also discovered a painting of a sphinx on the mask covering her mummified face as they virtuallly peeled back layer after layer of the resin-covered bandages.

The effect of this technology, say researchers, is like taking a trip deep inside the cartonnage.

It's not the first time Egyptologists and computer scientists have worked with visualization technology to better understand ancient burial rites. But this effort may have yielded some of the best images yet from inside a mummy.

"You can literally travel around inside the mummy's head," said Paul Brown, a visiting researcher at Stanford-NASA National Biocomputation Center who coordinated the project at Stanford University. "You can see the hair is still on the child, you can see the pool of resin in the back of her head. It's the best scan ever of a mummy."

Afshad Mistri, SGI's advanced visual marketer, said the same technology has applications for health care and crime solving.

The mummy - and her high-tech trappings - will be on display at San Jose's Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium throughout August.


On the Net:

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium: http://www.egyptianmuseum.org/