Synchrotron X-ray used to get new information about ancient mummy

An X-ray scattering experiment has been performed on a 1900-year-old Egyptian mummy of young girl to obtain new information about her, including how her body was prepared, what items she may have been buried with, the quality of her bones and what material is present in her brain cavity.

X-ray scattering experiment performed on the mummy (by Jim Prisching)

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine performed an all-day X-ray scattering experiment in the end of November. The Roman-Egyptian mummy of a 5-year-old girl dates back to the late 1st century AD and was uncovered at Egyptian site of Hawara, in an underground chamber with four other mummies. It is wrapped in linen, with a portrait in beeswax and pigments on wood. The outermost wrappings have been arranged in an ornate geometric pattern of overlapping rhomboids and also serve to frame the portrait. The portrait is a lifelike painting of the deceased individual. The girl is portrayed with dark hair gathered at the back and wearing a crimson tunic, along with gold jewellery. She is believed to have been from a high-status family.

Portrait mummy of a girl (by Northwestern University)
The high-energy synchrotron X-rays produced by Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source were used to probe the materials and objects inside the mummy, while leaving the mummy and her wrappings intact. Before that the mummy had a CT scan at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in August. The scan gave the researchers a 3-D map of the structure of the mummy and enabled them to confirm the girl was around 5 years old. The synchrotron X-ray beam being about twice the diameter of a human hair was directed on areas of high-density in the mummy that were identified by the CT scan. The scientists will now examine the X-ray diffraction patterns as in order to look closer at each crystalline material found within the wrapping. This will help to identify objects seen on the CT scan and distinguish artefacts from things that might have been wrapped by accident, such as rocks.
Researchers by the mummy (by Jim Prisching)

(after PhysOrg, Jim Prisching & Northwestern University)

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