3D X-rays unravel Egyptian mummified animals

Hyperaxion Aug 21, 2020

Researchers used the technology to study the mummies in more detail.

Three 2,000-year-old mummified animals – a snake, a cat, and a bird – were digitally processed using 3D X-rays. Researchers at Swansea University, UK, wanted to discover more details about the life (and death) of these animals.

3D X-rays unravel Egyptian mummified animals
(Credit: Swansea University).

According to the scientists, the method used is 100 times more efficient than a medical computed tomography, resulting in high-resolution images, rich in details. The article with the results of the study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The three-dimensional image is made up of several individual x-rays. Once assembled, they can be printed or digitally modeled in 3D for future studies.

After carrying out this process, the scientists discovered some information about the mummified animals. The feline mummy, for example, appears to belong to an Egyptian domestic cat. It was a kitten of less than 5 months and still had deciduous (baby) teeth.

(Credit: Swansea University).

An unhealed fracture below the jaw suggests the kitten’s neck was broken at the time of death or shortly thereafter, possibly to keep his head erect during mummification.

The bird was probably a common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), a bird of the Falconidae family. According to scientists, the mummy has a damaged beak and left leg. But since the leg was protruding from the wrappings, this damage may have occurred after death.

Finally, the snake was an Egyptian cobra (Naja haje). Analysis of the bone fractures suggests that it was probably killed during a “whipping” procedure, in which snakes were held by the tail while their heads were hit on the ground.

Scientists also identified damage to the reptile’s kidneys, indicating that the snake was dehydrated at the time of its death, which shows the poor conditions in which it was kept.

(Credit: Swansea University).

The researchers found structures inside the snake’s mouth, possibly dirt, clay, or natron. This was part of the “opening of the mouth” procedure performed during mummification, so that humans and animals could breathe, speak, and eat in the afterlife. This is the first evidence of complex ritualistic behavior applied to a snake.

“Our findings have uncovered new insights into animal mummification, religion and human-animal relationships in ancient Egypt,” said Carolyn Graves-Brown, a researcher from the Egypt Centre at Swansea University and co-author of the study.

Related topics:

Fossil Mummy

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