Peer inside a mummified cat from ancient Egypt, courtesy of high-res 3D X-rays: Author – Jennifer Ouellette

Ars Technica

Scientists have digitally unwrapped three mummified animals from ancient Egypt using Micro CT scanning. Above: Digital unwrapping of a mummified cat's head, likely a strangled kitten.

Enlarge / Scientists have digitally unwrapped three mummified animals from ancient Egypt using Micro CT scanning. Above: Digital unwrapping of a mummified cat’s head, likely a strangled kitten. (credit: Swansea University)

The ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans, most commonly as votive offerings to the gods available for purchase by visitors to temples. Many of those mummified remains have survived but are in such a fragile state that researchers are loath to disturb the remains to learn more about them. Now an inter-disciplinary team of scientists has managed to digitally “unwrap” three specimens—a mummified cat, bird, and snake—using a high-resolution 3D X-ray imaging technique, essentially enabling them to conduct a virtual postmortem, according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Studying fragile ancient artifacts with cutting-edge imaging technology confers a powerful advantage on archaeological analysis. For instance, in 2016, an international team of scientists developed a method for “virtually unrolling” a badly damaged ancient scroll found on the western shore of the Dead Sea, revealing the first few verses from the book of Leviticus. The so-called En Gedi scroll was recovered from the ark of an ancient synagogue destroyed by fire around 600 CE.

In 2019, we reported that German scientists used a combination of cutting-edge physics techniques to virtually “unfold” an ancient Egyptian papyrus, part of an extensive collection housed in the Berlin Egyptian Museum. Their analysis revealed that a seemingly blank patch on the papyrus actually contained characters written in what had become “invisible ink” after centuries of exposure to light. And earlier this year, we reported that scientists had used multispectral imaging on four supposedly blank Dead Sea Scrolls and found the scrolls contained hidden text, most likely a passage from the book of Ezekiel.  

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