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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Egyptologists use forensic science to help the mummy return - The Body Sphere - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)


http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bodysphere/forensic-egyptology-mummy-returns/7628496

Egyptologists use forensic science to help the mummy return

Thursday 14 July 2016 2:38PM
Amanda Smith

In classic horror films, dark magic sees Egyptian mummies return to life, bandages flailing. In real life, though, forensic Egyptology brings mummies back from the dead—in a far less spooky way. Amanda Smith explores the tomb. 

I'm at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. This is where all sorts of medical analysis and investigation of bodies goes on, for the justice system and for the coroner.

It's also where Dr Janet Davey is based. She's a forensic Egyptologist, and she investigates mummies. 

This is what I love about mummies, because you find something and you think: how on earth did that happen?

Dr Janet Davey

Davey's work uses CT scans to reveal the body inside the wrappings. From that data, Davey can determine a mummy's sex and approximate age, as well as look for injuries sustained before or after death.

Although the bodies Davey examines have been dead for thousands of years, her work is not dissimilar to other work that's done at the Institute of Forensic Medicine. 

'There are protocols that I use that are the same or similar to the ones that are used in disaster victim identification,' she says. 'In the mortuary, we have a CT scanner and all the bodies that come in are scanned.'

What can scientists tell about mummies?

Global improvements in imaging technology mean Davey is able to learn even more about the mummies she analyses. 

'A lot of people around the world are working on fine-tuning the images for medical purposes on the living, and we benefit from that,' she says.

An example of this is a child mummy held by the British Museum and known as Winnie.

'The researchers thought it was a boy, but when we CT scanned it we discovered that what they thought was the penis was actually an inclusion of something that could have been an internal organ or packing of some sort,' Davey says.

Looking inside a mummy can reveal odd and unusual things. 'There's one mummy here in Australia that has an adult toe bone in the cranial cavity, and some linen.'

Davey says the reason why remains unclear at this stage. 'The only thing I can think of is possibly someone's tried to push the linen in with an adult toe bone and has gone, "Whoops, it's disappeared!' 

Not being able to answer all the questions that the scan data raises is part of the forensic Egyptologist's job. 

'This is what I love about mummies, because you find something and you think, how on earth did that happen?' she says.

The logistics of transporting mummies

Davey has recently been analysing data from a mummified head that's held at the Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at Melbourne University. 

'It's a female, maximum age probably about 35,' she says. 'We can only do approximate ages for adults, once their wisdom teeth come in.' 

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It's likely that the head of this mummy was removed from the body by a tourist as a souvenir, sometime over the past 300 years. 

'To bring back an adult mummy you need a very large case, so what appears to have happened is that the bodies were decapitated, and a head can fit very easily into a travelling trunk,' Davey says.

'It's very sad, because the respect for the dead was ignored.'

Raising the dead's heads 

The head of that mummy is now—very respectfully—being brought back to life through a combination of Janet Davey's science and Jennifer Mann's art. 

Jennifer Mann is a portrait sculptor, trained in forensic facial reconstruction. To 'resurrect' the mummy, she starts with a 3D print of the skull, based on Davey's CT scan.

'It is actually a very detailed replica of a skull underneath a wrapped mummy,' says Mann.

Onto the skull, Mann places tissue depth markers. They're like the erasers on the tips of pencils, cut to different lengths according to tissue depth data that has been established for particular populations.

'The tissue depths are really important for this work, because it really is not me just making up a face, it's me creating something that's already there on the skull,' she says.

The nose, Mann says, is made according to how wide the nasal aperture on the skull is. Similarly, the width of the mouth is calculated on the position of the teeth.

'It's quite an extraordinary feeling when you get to the point where it really looks like someone and you know that you're not just making it up,' she says.

In this case, unusually, Mann also has evidence for the ear, revealed by the CT images.

'Ears are one thing usually of great mystery in this sort of work,' Mann says.

'Often a generic ear will be put on. We were very lucky to get an image of the ear, the kind of angle of it.'

Under the artist's hands, a face emerges.

'She's an ancient Egyptian, and from what I see she's in pretty good shape,' Mann says.

'I was surprised when this face emerged by the specific features, like the eyes were very large and at a certain angle, and she had a slight overbite which means that the top lip in particular is quite full.'

Jennifer Mann's completed reconstruction, along with a 3D print of the skull and the actual ancient mummified head, will go on display at the Anatomy and Pathology Museum at Melbourne University in August.

Important non-invasive techniques

According to forensic Egyptologist Janet Davey, the critically important thing about using CT scanning, 3D printing and facial reconstruction techniques is that these are non-invasive ways to learn more about mummified bodies.

'Mummies are a finite resource, so we don't want to investigate them using invasive methods. We want to leave the mummy intact,' she says.

Before these technologies, however, the only way to really scrutinise the body inside the mummy wrappings was to unwrap it. In the 19th and into the 20th centuries a mummy unwrapping was often presented as a kind of public spectacle.

'People were invited to it. Sometimes it was a soiree where one could come in one's best clothes,' Davey says.

'I see it as almost, "Let's come and have a cocktail party and afterwards we'll unwrap a mummy"—which is dreadful.'

Davey says it's those sorts of unveilings that contributed to the genre of horror movies that started early in the 20th century, such as The Mummy, The Mummy's Hand, and The Mummy's Curse.

'There are people who won't go anywhere near a mummy in a museum,' she says.

'The image of the mummies walking through, terrifying people, with bits of bandages trailing behind, is something that still terrifies people.'