3D scans unearth details about life, deaths of 2,000-year-old Egyptian animal mummies

Used micro CT scanning for the first time to study mummification, researchers learned how and when the animals were killed.

A new method of scanning ancient Egyptian mummies has revealed a lot of details about the diet, purpose of mummification and possibly, the cause of death of different animals in Egypt some 2000 years ago.

The project came about in the form of a seven-year-long collaboration between the Egypt Centre and the Swansea College of Engineering in the United Kingdom. The animal mummies that were studied were of a snake, a cat and a bird. A detailed study of the findings were reported Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers used micro CT scans for the first time to study the mummification process. It revealed how and when the animals were killed, and also what kind of damage they had suffered on their body. So these mummies were unwrapped by means of 3D imaging.

While studying the Egyptian cobra, researchers found that the snake’s mouth contained evidence of resin, which was possibly part of some ancient ritual, as detailed in a video shared by Science Magazine.

The scans revealed that the bird was a Eurasian kestrel, which exhibited a protruded leg, suggesting some damage after mummification. Researchers are of the opinion that these animals were offerings to the deity. The scanners also shed light on how they were killed.

While the cat had a broken vertebra to indicate that it had likely been strangled to death, the cobra might have been killed with a swinging action against a hard surface, like a wall, the study suggests. These findings are in tune with what the Egypt Centre already believed about the ritual mummification of animals, reported BBC.

Richard Johnston, professor of material science, explained why the 3D scanning by micro CT had an edge over the earlier methods.

"...with the micro CT software we can create a virtual reality image of the scan as large as a house, if you like; I can actually walk around inside the body of the cat and make microscopic measurements to examine in minute detail,” Johnston told Science.

The micro CT scanner captures several X-ray images of the object while it rotates around an axis. Then these pictures are merged to create a 3D image which can be rotated and viewed from any angle.

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