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Museum’s Egyptian Mummies: Visit to HUP for CT Scanning
April 28, 2009, Volume 55, No. 31



One of three ancient Egyptian mummies CT scanned in the early morning of April 19th at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. (L-R) Penn student and anthropology major Samantha Cox, HUP radiologic technologist Erika Durham, Penn Museum Senior Research Scientist Jennifer Wegner, and Penn anthropology majors Jennifer Rosado and Paul Sanborn.

PUM II and Hapi-Men, two of the ancient Egyptian mummies on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, have had their share of medical scrutiny: PUM II was both x-rayed and autopsied in 1973, while Hapi-Men underwent an x-ray in 1980.

Early Sunday morning, April 19, they traveled to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, for yet another medical procedure, and the chance for researchers to find out more about these 2000-plus year old mummies—this time, through state-of-the-art CT scanning. They were joined by Hapi-Men’s loyal (mummified) pet, affectionately known as Hapi-Puppy. All three mummies were successfully CT scanned, and returned to the Penn Museum before 9 a.m.—and before the hospital’s living human patients’ CT scan appointments began.

They will be followed, eventually, by most of the Egyptian mummies in the Museum’s collection, including the seven additional mummies on display in the Museum’s most popular exhibition, The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science. What scholars learn about the collection from this procedure will eventually inform a new exhibition or segment of the current exhibition.

“As a state of the art, three dimensional, non-invasive procedure, CT scans can provide us with a wealth of new data, without causing damage to these mummies,” noted Dr. Jennifer Wegner, senior research scientist in the Egyptian section, who joined the team on their short trip across the street to HUP. “It’s a wonderful way to unlock ‘secrets,’ and learn more about the life, and death, of the mummies in our collection.”

The team that took PUM II, Hapi-Men and Hapi-Puppy to HUP included Samantha Cox, anthropology major and junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, who will be doing the analysis of the mummy CT scans as an independent research project. A Penn Museum volunteer since her junior year in high school, she has been assisting Dr. Janet Monge, acting curator, physical anthropology section, on a comprehensive, National Science Foundation-funded CT scanning project since her freshman year at Penn. She was joined at HUP by Dr. Monge and Dr. Wegner, as well as Penn students Jennifer Rosado, also a junior majoring in anthropology, and Paul Sanborn, a second-year MS student in physical anthropology.

Radiologic technologist Erika Durham was ready to work with these unusual “patients”: she is one of the CT technologists who have been involved in this project over the years. She noted that the width of the mummies wasn’t a problem (they were left on the bottom shelf of specially designed carry boxes that fit inside the machine), but the length posed a challenge; she had to do two partial scans with overlaps, because the machine was not designed to scan the full body in one complete run.

That means that the job of bringing the two halves of the mummies together falls to Ms. Cox, who took the scans from HUP back to the Museum’s anthropology laboratory. She employs Osirix software, a freeware software usually used for medical imaging, to render the scans in three dimensions, so that researchers can look at cross sections and virtually rotate the mummies. She didn’t know how the software was named, but it seemed particularly applicable to the Museum’s mummy collection: Osiris is the Egyptian god of the dead.

It is a bit too early to know what “secrets” these CT scans will unveil. Hapi-Men appeared to have some objects, possibly amulets, in his chest cavity—a not uncommon finding in mummies, as part of the long mummification process often included the addition of protective amulets. Ms. Cox will be looking at the bones and teeth, for signs of pathology—potential disease, the general health and wellness of the two mummies believed to be 35 to 40 years old, and signs that those approximate ages hold true. After examining the scans, she’ll move on to research on related pathologies—and she’ll have the expertise of Penn Museum Egyptologists and physical anthropologists, and a HUP radiologist, to guide her in her study.

And what about Hapi-Puppy? The CT scan showed that he, or she, definitely had an elongated head, the shape of a dog, not a cat. Reviewing her scan, Ms. Dunham pointed out the clear little circles—little toes toward the front, and at the back, of the tiny wrapped package.

While CT scanning Penn Museum’s Egyptian mummies on exhibition is new, the CT scanning project is not. Since 2002, scholars at the Penn Museum, facilitated by a major grant from the NSF, have been working with the department of radiology at HUP, on a major long-term project to CT scan the Museum’s human skeletal collections of thousands of human and primate specimens, as well as collections from Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History, and recently, the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians.

The data-rich three-dimensional scans (a single scan can be many hundreds of megabytes) are stored in an Open Research Scan Archive, on computers in the Human Brain Evolution Laboratory in the Museum. Researchers may schedule an appointment to work in the Lab, or request specific scans be downloaded and mailed to them. The Open Research Scan Archive Online includes all available research notes on each of the specimens presented, providing scholars with easy access to critical contextual information.

Dr. Monge and P. Thomas Schoenemann, consulting curator and research associate in the section, are the principal investigators of the NSF­—funded project, which continues through 2009.

“The purpose of this project is to facilitate research in skeletal biology, anthropology, biology, medicine, and related disciplines,” noted Dr. Monge. “These data-rich scans provide us, for the first time, with the ability to offer open access to our important skeletal collections, thereby providing an opportunity for all interested scholars to tap in to this raw data for their own research purposes.”


Almanac - April 28, 2009, Volume 55, No. 31