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The Mummy, Revealed
Jamais Cascio, 6 Jul 04

Time for another trip back to the British Museum. From July 1 through January, 2005, the mummy of the Egyptian priest Nesperennub will be on display, fully revealed down to his teeth and bones... all without opening the case. Working in cooperation with Silicon Graphics, Inc., British Museum archaeologists have been able to take detailed CT scans and 3D laser scan images of the mummy, and assemble them via supercomputer into a 3D model of the body, its wrapping, and its contents. The model can be rotated, examined closely, and have the layers of wrapping (and skin) removed as the viewer sees fit. The Brit Museum exhibition includes a 20 minute 3D "virtual tour" of the mummy; the website has a 2D approximation in its children's "compass" section.

The BBC and Express India both have articles about the mummy, the model, and the exhibit, although in both cases the stories are in the "entertainment" section, not science. Shrug. The best and most detailed article is in the current (July 3-9) issue of New Scientist; unfortunately, it's not one of the articles made freely available on the web, so you'll have to go and read it surreptitiously on the newsstand.

The combination of scanning technologies and supercomputing -- and the rapid decline in cost for both -- means that non-destructive analysis is becoming more and more commonplace. This is particularly valuable not just in the study of mummies, but in medical science. The advent of widespread terahertz wave (the region between the infrared and microwave frequencies) scanning will only add to the utility of the process, as it is particularly sensitive to variations in soft tissue density and structure.

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