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A Night Out of the Museum: Mummies In The CT Scanner

A radiologist examines these less-than-living patients for the Spanish National Museum of Archaeology.

A Night Out of the Museum: Mummies In The CT Scanner

Image credit: RTVE

One dark night in Madrid, four mummies creeped through the doors of Quirónsalud University Hospital.

But despite the upcoming Halloween celebration, they didn’t come back to life to haunt the museum on their own or scare unsuspecting children afraid of the dark.

Rather, they were transported there as part of a study that the Spanish National Museum of Archaeology and the University Hospital of Quirónsalud were conducting to understand the anatomy, process, and anthropometric and pathological of mummification. Once inside the hospital and perhaps once the lights were on, the mummies were put under a CT examination.

“For the first time in my career, I performed a CT scan on a mummy. It’s not often we get such opportunity as radiologists,” said Dr. Vicente Martínez de Vega, Head of the radiology department at Quirónsalud Madrid, who performed the scan with GE’s Revolution CT system installed at the hospital. “Through the scan, were able to ascertain the mummies’ approximate age, sex, height, clothing, and if they suffered any bone fractures. In addition to that, we are examining their teeth to see what type of nutrition they had.

A Night Out of the Museum: Mummies In The CT Scanner

All of this helps archaeologists and historical experts understand how these ancient populations lived and important events their cultures may have experienced.

One aspect of special interest to Egyptologists, for example, is the kind of mummification process that each mummy went through.

Three of the four mummies are Egyptian and one is “Guanche”, the ancestral population of Tenerife in the Canary Islands prior the arrival of the Spaniards. Some of these populations buried corps in caves, where they mummified through the low humidity and stable temperature.

“They are also looking for things like whether all organs had been removed or not as part of the mummification process,” said Dr. Vicente Martínez de Vega.

The transfer took more than eight hours, a team of 15 people, and a special truck. A specific route without bumps in the road was chosen to avoid any potential damage to the mummies.

A Night Out of the Museum: Mummies In The CT Scanner

Image credit: RTVE

Scanning the mummies in the CT machine began at dawn, once it was no longer so dark and in order not to interfere with – or frighten –the hospital’s daily activity.

“It was certainly unusual to spend a whole night with mummies in an empty hospital,” said Dr. Vicente Martínez de Vega. “Mummies don’t move, so that makes them relatively cooperative patients.


More Information

The secret history of mummies (Spanish)