Gift of the Mummy

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A CT scan of the mummy Henut-Wedjebu, an Egyptian noblewoman who lived during 1300 BC. The specks around her head might be beads that were part of a headdress. Henut-Wedjebu and two younger male mummies are on display at the St. Louis Art Museum. She and one of the others are on loan from the Kemper Art Museum at Washington University. Credit: Washington University Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.

Science Fridays Picture of the Week: The first two mummies arrived at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, at 7:30 a.m. on a cold, gray, and rainy Sunday this October. A third arrived a bit later. By 12:30 p.m., all had taken a turn through a CT scanner.

Four radiologists, each interested in different parts of the body, are scrutinizing the scans for clues into the mummies’ lives, medical conditions, and deaths. Their discoveries will add context to the St. Louis Art Museum’s Egypt collection, planned for a reinstallation in 2016. (Hear more about the mummies on this week’s show, airing on Halloween.)

The individual pictured above, known as Henut-Wedjebu, is the oldest and least examined of the three. “The challenge was scanning a patient that just happened to be from 1300 BC,” says Sanjeev Bhalla, the project’s lead radiologist, who usually tends to living patients.

An x-ray taken almost 50 years ago showed a fracture in Henut-Wedjebu’s skull, but the radiologists knew little else about her physical state. Computed tomography probes deeper than conventional x-ray imaging, providing more detail and contrast and picking up on calcified structures filled with gas.

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