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Video: A mummy ‘grows’ with CT scans and 3D digital technology

This 53-second video consists of a series of images taken with a Siemens Somotom CT scanner of a mummy at the Department of Anthropology in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. The individual shown here is a male who died at about 40 years of age; a relatively mature age by ancient Egyptian standards. He is believed to have lived in Lower Egypt sometime between the 25-26th Greco-Roman periods, which is between 600 B.C. and about 150 A.D., or roughly 2,500 to 1,900 years ago.

When this mummy was transferred to the Smithsonian from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia in the late 1950s, it was partially unwrapped, and very little was known about its history or the individual inside.

Years later, using 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional CT scans, Natural History Museum anthropologists found that the brain and major organs were removed and rolls of linen filled out the abdominal cavity. This mummification method is evidence of superior embalming, indicating a person of higher status.

The CT scanner uses x-rays to produce a series of 2-dimensional image slices which, for this video, were processed and converted into a 3D model. Two different CT filters were used to extract and digitize the physical properties of the mummy—a bone filter to extract images of the mummy’s bones and a second filter that imaged the mummy’s soft tissues, both inside and out.

After the flesh and bone was digitally extracted, the data were imported into a computer program called 3D Studio Max, where virtual cameras were set up, an animation path was assigned and an animated clipping plane was set up to visually “grow” the mummy.

This and other CT scan images of human and animal mummies will be featured on a Website accompanying “Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt,” an exhibition opening at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on Nov. 17, 2011. The exhibition will explore ancient Egyptian life, religious beliefs and examines how the burial practices serve as windows into ancient cultures and reveal how archaeologists and physical anthropologists gain these insights through their research.

This video was made possible by Meg Rivers in the Exhibition Department and Dr. Dave Hunt in the Anthropology Department at the Natural History Museum and Adam Metallo and Vincent Rossi of the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office.


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