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Mummies Get X-Ray Scan At U. of C. Revealing Startling Discoveries

By Sam Cholke | October 18, 2016 1:44pm
 The Oriental Institute brought two of its mummies to the Center for Care and Discovery on Tuesday to go through the hospital's CT scanner.
Oriental Institute Mummy Scan
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HYDE PARK — As the CT scans flashed across the screen at the University of Chicago’s Center for Care and Discovery, fellows gathered around Dr. Mike Vannier as he pointed out fractures in the hips, pelvis and both legs. This was more than a fall off a donkey, but could it have been from a tumble down a pyramid.

Vannier on Tuesday was helping the Oriental Institute X-ray scan two mummies collected by the museum’s founder, James Henry Breasted, during his honeymoon trip to Egypt in 1894. Almost immediately, there were startling discoveries about an unidentified mummy that had never been scanned before.

Emily Teeter, research coordinator at the museum, recoiled as Dr. Vannier pointed out the immense pain that the upper-class Egyptian woman likely experienced before her death 2,400 years ago.

“This person really got beat up bad,” Dr. Vannier said. “How do you break both hips and the pelvis?”

Dr. Vannier said he was able to quickly spot fractures in the pelvis and legs of the woman mummy.

Teeter said the mummy has largely been a mystery since Breasted brought it to the museum. She said the museum knew Breasted’s wife was repulsed because Breasted had stowed it under their bed during the long boat ride back from Egypt. Since then, the museum has been able to roughly date the mummy to 400 B.C., but were unsure of even the sex until Tuesday.

“Congratulations, it’s a girl,” Teeter said as the scans revealed the mummy was likely an older woman.

Earlier in the morning, a scan of the mummy believed to be Petosiris, believed to be the high priest of Thoth in 400 B.C., had confirmed it was a man after radiologists spotted what is likely a metal rod under the wrappings around the groin.

“To make him a little more robust in the afterlife,” Teeter joked.

Petosiris was revealed to likely have been much younger when he died than originally thought, Vannier said as he looked over the initial scans. He was likely middle-aged, not elderly as researchers had previously thought because he was missing all but his two front teeth on the top, according to Vannier.

But it was the elderly woman that pulled in other doctors from the radiology department eager to diagnose a 2,400-year-old patient.

The unidentified mummy is not on display in the museum and was brought out from storage for the scan.

“Maybe she fell from a height,” said Dr. Michael Veronesi.

Resident Brittany Dashevsky quickly jumped in to point out that though both legs were dislocated at the knee, neither heel was fractured, which would be consistent with a fall. She said it almost looked like someone who had been in a car accident and peppered Teeter with questions about donkeys and the chairs used to carry wealthy Egyptians.

“These are striking findings and we’ve only just started,” Vannier said, who has helped the museum with past scans. “This is the most severely injured mummy I have ever seen.”

Teeter said they were discovering more about the mummy than they had expected and would know more once the scans were compiled into a 3-D rendering. She said the museum now also has a new obligation to the mummy since they’re sure it is a woman.

“She doesn’t have a name, we’ll have to come up with something,” Teeter said. “We’ll give her a name because it’s disrespectful not to.”

The whole process took about three hours, a fraction of the time when compared to the scans of Petosiris in 1991, which took almost an entire day.

Petosiris will go back on display in his sarcophagus in the museum after the scans are finished.

But the scans of the other mummy may be one of the few chances people get to see it as it goes back into storage while researchers study the scans.

The unidentified mummy was determined in the scans to be an elderly woman who had been severely injured.

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