Return of the Mummy; Science Unlocks Ancient Secrets without Opening the Sarcophagus

Daily Mail (London), April 7, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Return of the Mummy; Science Unlocks Ancient Secrets without Opening the Sarcophagus


Byline: COLIN FERNANDEZ

WHEN the Egyptians entombed his body 3,000 years ago, they meant it to be undisturbed for all time.

Now archaeologists have found a way to obey that wish - yet still unlock the mummy's secrets.

Using the latest medical scanners they have been able to observe the mummified remains of Nesperennub - a temple priest who lived before 800BC - without unsealing his sarcophagus.

In all, 1,500 images were taken for the British Museum then fed into a supercomputer - also used by Professor Stephen Hawking in his cosmology research - to build a three- dimensional image of the 35-year-old.

The images have revealed incredible detail.

They show Nesperennub - an important adviser to the Pharaoh Sheshonq III - was buried with a winged scarab dung beetle on his chest to guard his journey into the afterlife.

He also has an earthenware bowl attached to his head.

Archaeologists believe this may have become stuck accidentally when embalmers spilt sticky resin on his body. It appears they may have tried to remove it but gave up as it was too firmly glued to the skull.

Previously, this sort of detail could only have been gleaned by opening the mummy's sarcophagus and unwrapping its bandages to view the remains.

A museum spokesman explained yesterday: 'The sarcophagus is completely sealed at the moment.

If we opened it up the skeleton of the mummy would just be destroyed by exposure to the air.' Dr John Taylor, assistant keeper at the museum's department of ancient Egypt and Sudan, added: 'An important aspect of using the scans is that we are preserving a valuable scientific resource for future research.

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