The three mummified animals. Source: Richard Johnston/Swansea University

Postmortem of Mummified Animals Using 3D Scans

The 3D technology, paving its way in archeology and doing wonders, is just the tip of an iceberg.

Researchers recently expanded the scope of high imaging techniques, using it to give a new dimension to archeology by unwrapping the mummified animals buried more than 2,000 years ago. It seems no less than a miracle that we have stepped into such an era of modernization where we can use radiation technology to get an insight into the history of their burial and revile the unprecedented details about human-animal relationships.

Scientists from the University of Leicester and University of Swansea used high-resolution 3D scans to dissect the mummified animals, including a snake, a bird, and a kitten- from the asset held by the Egypt Centre at Swansea University. Previous research on these mummified artifacts using medical CT scans failed to unravel more peculiar details about what these mummies encapsulate besides their identification.

But thanks to the 3D X-ray micro CT scanning, we pretty much get the knack of all the details from how they lived and died right down to the smallest teeth and bones without damaging the delicate artifacts, with a resolution 100 times greater than a medical CT scan.

A scan image of the remains of a mummified bird resembling a Eurasian Kestrel. Source: Swansea University

Richard Thomas, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Leicester, said:

Advances in imaging technology are, for the first time, revealing new insights into the lives of these animals and mummification practices without disturbing the wrappings. In our study, we have been able to visualize bones and teeth, materials, and even desiccated soft tissue in new levels of detail. The scans have made it possible to 3D print and handle the skeletal remains and take a virtual walk-through the mummies, revealing the impact of the industrial scale of mummification on the animals themselves.”

The ancient Egyptians used to mummify humans and animals, including cats, ibis, hawks, snakes, crocodiles, and dogs. At times they were buried alongside their deceased owners believing it to be a food supply for the afterlife; however, the common practice was to bring them to temples as a sacred offering to GOD, as a means of communication. According to the investigations carried out in recent times, it has been estimated that there may be up to 70 million animal mummies in ancient Egypt buried in underground catacombs.

A scanned image of the remains of an Egyptian Cobra. Source: Swansea University

Using 3D X-ray micro CT scanning, researchers piece together the shreds of evidence to find out interesting facts regarding mummified animals. The team found out that:

  • The mummified feline was a kitten, fewer than five months of age, based on discovering an un-erupted tooth within its jawbone. They also found gaps between the neck bones while separating the vertebrae, suggesting that the kitten was possibly strangled.
  • Virtual measurements of the bone suggested the bird most closely resembled a Eurasian kestrel.
  • Examination of a mummified snake- juvenile Egyptian Cobra- provided evidence of kidney damage developing a form of gout, showed that it may have been deprived of water during its life. It was also suggested that it may have died of spine damage due to a whipping action based on the signs of the bone fracture collected; it also gave leads to the prior opening of the mouth’ procedure during mummification. These findings gave the first evidence of the ritualistic behavior practiced at that time.

This technology, paving its way in archeology and doing wonders, is just the tip of an iceberg since we have not fully explored the potential of this technology yet. But the researchers are staunch believers that it still has many untapped applications and will lead us to a world of endless possibilities in the future. As Prof Johnston said;

“X-ray dose from micro CT is typically too high for human use, and the scan times much longer,” he said. “But it has limitless potential for materials in science, engineering, biology, even biomimicry.” We scan structures from nature that have evolved over millions of years to be efficient or strong, like bamboo, and then reproduce the micro-scale shape for engineering design through 3D printing.”

Also, Read: Archeology – exploring the past with modern technology

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