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Scans may reveal mummies' secrets

An ambulance that would normally be speeding along Washington Avenue and into Washington Park was carefully maneuvering through downtown Albany at about 15 mph Saturday morning to avoid any potholes or bumps. The reason? Its passenger was a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy. 

Mummy experts Dr. Peter Lacovara of Emory University, left, and Dr. Robert Brier of C.W. Post University examine one of two Mummies from the Albany Institute of History and Art before it undergoes a CT scan at Albany Medical Center's South Campus [Credit: Jeff Couch/Saratogian]
Two mummified Egyptians and an alligator mummy were transported to Albany Medical Center’s South Campus to undergo X-ray and CT scans in an effort to learn more about the Albany Institute of History and Art’s Egyptian collections and its mummies. 

“We went slow to avoid bumps,” said Clarissa Myers, who drove a Five Quad Volunteer Ambulance through downtown Albany. She said it was scary, mainly because she did not want to damage the antiquity. 

Her colleague, crew chief Lauren Brindisi, added, “It was a little creepy though, especially traveling in the ambulance with the partially unwrapped mummy.” 

The two mummies, called the Albany mummies, include a somewhat unwrapped one that is believed to be a male with its skull and remaining upper body showing. It was unwrapped not long after it was purchased in 1909 from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, mainly to see what was under the ancient wrapping that dates back to 300 B.C. 

The other mummy, which is full wrapped, is believed to be a female from the 21st dynasty, or about 1,000 B.C. It was lighter than the male mummy, museum officials said. 

Both mummies were transported from Egypt, where they were discovered near Luxor at Deir el-Bahri on a steamship, to help fill the institute’s new building around the turn of the 20th century. 

Egyptologist Dr. Bob Brier from the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University said for a long time such mummies were unwrapped for autopsies that would uncover more about their lifestyle and culture. However, current technology allows these antiquities to remain in their preserved form. 

Dr. Robert Brier from C.W. Post at Long Island University and Albany Medical Center radiologists prepare to X-ray a mummy from the Albany Institute of History and Art [Credit: Jeff Couch/Saratogian]
This was the second time the mummies have been tested using technology; the first was in 1988 when they tried to confirm their sex and other information. With the advances in technology, more is hoped to be discovered this time. 

Brier said he hoped to finally determine their sex after Saturday’s tests. While the scans took mere seconds, analyzing the data will take a bit longer. The sex can be determined through pelvic differences and facial structure. And the way in which the mummy is wrapped helps to determine when the person was mummified. 

Other information specialists hope to gather includes their ages at the time of death, cause of death and if the female was pregnant. The fully wrapped mummy also had a ceramic toe; experts were interested in determining how it was affixed to the body. 

The mummies will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the Art Institute titled “GE Presents: the Mystery of the Albany Mummies: The Story of Ankhefenmut” slated to open Sept. 21, 2013, and run until June 8, 2014, chief curator Tammis Groft said. 

Albany Medical Center radiologist Michael Schuster explained that the medical scans for mummies differ from scans of contemporary patients, since the organs are not there. But, there are similarities with the bones and joints. 

The X-ray gives a two dimensional view of the bones and the CAT scan gives three dimensional cross-sections of the body, explained Albany Medical College assistant professor Phuong Vinh. 

Such scanning and studying has been done with quite a few mummies, said Brier, who is also a specialist in paleopathology, or the archeological study of diseases. 

Groft also noted that the exhibit will bring together the pieces of a coffin. The bottom of the coffin is housed at the Institute while the mummy cover is in the British Museum and the lid is in Vienna. 

The mummies’ transfer and examinations were filmed for a documentary called “The Albany Mummies: Unraveling an Ancient Mystery” by UAlbany English Department faculty member Mary Valentis and retired English professor William Rainbolt. The film is supported by The University at Albany Foundation and is expected to make its debut in late 2012, officials said.  

Author: Danielle Sanzone | Source: The Saratogian [March 31, 2012]

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