Computer Technology Unwraps Secrets of Egypt's Mummies

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Researchers at Emory University are using the same technology to find and diagnose disease in the living and to discover the secrets of the dead.

Using computer tomography, or CT, scans of 19 Egyptian mummies acquired by the Michael C. Carlos Museum in 1999, the scientists are gathering information that could not otherwise be obtained without destroying or unwrapping the bodies.

One of the mummies might be Ramses I, founder of Egypt's 19th dynasty and ruler between 1292 and 1290 B.C.

"We put the mummy just like a patient on the table and into the CT machine," said Heidi Hoffman, a resident in radiology at Emory and one of the authors of a report on the research.

The machine generates a number of cross-sectional images, or visual slices, of the mummies. The images are then fed into a computer program that creates three-dimensional images of the mummified bodies and allows for what Hoffman calls a "fly-through," or the creation in the viewer of the impression of going inside the mummy itself.

Although she had no background in Egyptology or archaeology, Hoffman said she leapt at the opportunity to research the mummies.

"My standard as a doctor has been a normal human body, so when I first looked at these CT scans I said, 'What the heck am I looking at?' " she said by phone from Chicago, where she presented the findings at the convention of the Radiological Society of North America.

Among their conclusions, Hoffman and her colleagues say the appearance and posture of one of the bodies and the embalming methods used could mean it is that of Ramses I, grandfather of Ramses II or Ramses the Great. …