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December 2009 Issue

The Cincinnati Museum Center sought the help of UC’s radiology department to explore the life and death of a donated mummified child.
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UC Radiologists Unravel Mystery of Local Mummy

By Amanda Harper
Published December 2009

The mystery of mummies has intrigued people for centuries. Without literally unwrapping these captivating artifacts, however, knowledge has been limited to possibility versus fact.

Recently, UC’s radiology department demystified the details of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy as part of local efforts related to “Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science,” an exhibit currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.

The Cincinnati Museum Center sought imaging services from UC’s radiology department to build a local connection for the national touring exhibit. The mummy, which had been in storage at the Cincinnati Art Museum since the 1970s, was donated to the Cincinnati Museum Center earlier this year.

“Many other cities have acquired additional imaging of locally owned mummies with the goal of showing what was on the inside of the mummy in more detail,” says Rhonda Strunk, supervisor of the 3D post-processing lab at UC Health University Hospital and clinical instructor of radiology at the UC College of Medicine. “We were happy to partner with the Cincinnati Museum Center to provide that same educational opportunity to Greater Cincinnatians.”

The UC radiology team used computerized tomography (CT) scanning technology to virtually peel away the mummy’s external wrappings and explore the mystery surrounding this specific child’s life and death.

It wasn’t the first time UC had delved into this mystery; the department first completed imaging on the mummy in 1982. Back then, CT scanning—an imaging technology that takes rapid, high-definition pictures of internal structures in three dimensions—was not available, so information was limited to single dimension X-ray technology.

“The difference in technology and depth of detail is striking. CT scanning allowed us to unlayer the mummy by computer graphics, preserving the mummy as a historical object but gaining tremendous detail regarding human anatomical structures as well as objects of historic interest,” explains James Leach, MD, a neuroradiologist with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and associate professor of radiology at the UC College of Medicine.

“The original imaging of the mummy used X-rays and simply showed a flat dimension image. With CT, utilizing the advanced imaging workstations located in the 3D Lab, we can peel away the different levels of what is there with much more intricate detail and higher resolution in a 3D volumetric data set,” adds Strunk.

The updated imaging shed new light on the boy’s potential cause of death, refuting previous beliefs that the boy suffered from neurofibromatosis and showing no evidence of chronic disease.

It also revealed previously unknown details about the type of statuettes buried with the boy.

They also discovered that the boy was placed on a wooden plank painted with detailed hieroglyphs. All of this information was of extreme interest to archeological experts seeking to learn more about this specific child’s life—his stature in society, family lineage and religion beliefs.

Detailed interpretations of the imagery associated with the mummy are now on display at
the Cincinnati Museum Center through Jan. 3, 2010. For tickets and information, visit www.cincy

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