Hancock Museum Mummy Begins To Reveal Its X-Ray Secrets

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 12 September 2006
an x-ray photograph showing a mummy in a coffin

Full radiographic (x-ray) image of the mummy showing hands down over the pelvis as well as amulets on the body. © Tyne and Wear Museums

Experts examining new images of one of the Hancock Museum’s oldest residents, the mummy Bakt Hor Nekht, have started to reveal some of their findings.

The 3000 year old mummy, dating from 1070–712 BC, was examined during a recent Computerised Tomography (CT) scan at Newcastle General Hospital on Thursday August 31.

X-rays were beamed through the mummy at regular intervals while moving 360 degrees to create a remarkably precise three-dimensional image.

an x-ray photgraph of a skull from the front

Front 3D view showing well preserved teeth, possibly with some sort of covering or enamel crystallisation. © Tyne and Wear Museums

This non-invasive technique has allowed experts to zoom in on areas of interest and break down the images for analysis. The spectacular results promise to yield new information that could reveal who she was, how old she was when she died and provide insights into the mummification process revealing the objects she was mummified with.

“Working with staff from the hospital we have been able to establish that Bakt Hor Nekht has a full set of teeth, including her wisdom teeth, which can help us estimate how old she was when she died,” explained Gill Scott, an Egyptologist at the Hancock Museum.

The scans also revealed a series of amulets made from a variety of different materials positioned across the body together with the material placed in the eye sockets of the mummy.

an x-ray photograph of a skull from the side

Lateral (side) 3D view of the head of Bakt Hor Nekht showing the detailed preservation of the ears and other tissue. © Tyne and Wear Museums

“False eyes were placed over the eyelids which were thought to provide the dead with vision in the afterlife,” said Gill. “An unusual substance appears to be covering the mummy’s teeth which will need further examination.”

The last time the mummy was under such close examination was in 1991 when it underwent its first CT scan. Since then advances in modern technology mean that the museum is now able to find out much more without damaging the fragile mummy, which lies within an inner coffin made from cartonnage (layered papyrus) which was then placed in a wooden sycamore coffin.

“More detailed investigation of the scans still needs to be undertaken as there are over 800 images to sift through,” added Gill, “but we hope this will provide us with even more information to build up a better picture of her life and death”.

an illuminated x-ray photograph of a skull from the front

Radiographic (x-ray) image of the face of Bakt Hor Nekht showing that she has inlay (false) eyes and teeth which show up very clearly, possibly due to enamel crystallisation. © Tyne and Wear Museums

The research at the Hancock will help staff inform their understanding of Ancient Egypt at a time when the museum is planning the development of its new Egyptian display as part of the £26 million Great North Museum project, due to open in 2006.

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