Thursday, March 24, 2011

Published Pictures Crocodile Mummies from Ancient Egypt

Mask of the Mummy
There's a real crocodile behind that mask, according to new computed tomography (CT) scans of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy (pictured). The 8-foot-long (2.4-meter-long) artifact—wrapped in once colorful linen and outfitted with a stylized mask—is one of two crocodile mummy bundles scanned this month at the Stanford School of Medicine in California.
Scans of the bundle above show a "mishmash of bony parts" from at least two Nile crocodiles, including two skulls, a shoulder bone, and possibly a femur, according to conservator Allison Lewis, a fellow at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, California, where the mummies are kept.
Their origins unknown, the mummy bundles were purchased by philanthropist Phoebe Hearst in Egypt at the turn of the 20th century. The artifacts were recently restored and studied before going on display this week in the museum's new exhibition, "Conservator's Art: Preserving Egypt's Past."
Mummifying animals was a common practice among ancient Egyptians, who embalmed thousands of crocodiles and buried them in mass graves as offerings to the crocodile god Sobek, according to the museum. (See "Mummy Birds Recovered From Egypt Factory.")

Crocodile Ballast?
There was little mystery shrouding the Hearst museum's other crocodile mummy bundle, pictured in a low-resolution scan, which housed an intact adult and babies. The mummy's original wrapping was already gone when it was purchased in 1899. But scientists wanted to find out what was inside the crocodile's body.
The scan revealed strange white objects (lower right). These may be rocks, which crocodiles will swallow as a type of ballast to keep them steady in the water, according to Jane Williams, an associate conservator at the museum. (Read "King Crocs" in National Geographic magazine.)< Overall, added museum conservator Lewis, CT scans offer a "really detailed" and noninvasive look at "what's going on inside" mummies.

Baby Crocodile Mummies
"Riding" atop the 5.5-foot-long (1.7-meter-long) unwrapped adult-crocodile mummy were more than 30 mummified babies. Riding a parent's back is a common form of locomotion for young Nile crocodiles, experts say. (See alligator and crocodile pictures.)
The babies had originally been wrapped in linen, tied to palm stems, and pressed onto the adult crocodile via the sticky "mummy balm" used by embalmers in ancient Egypt, according to the Hearst museum's conservation blog.
The balm on the crocodiles—a mixture of conifer-tree resin, beeswax, and fat—was the same as the substance used to mummify humans, "disputing the notion that animals received cheaper, more perfunctory" mummifying, according to the blog.
But the tarlike substance had degraded over time, and some of the young crocodiles had fallen off over the years. The museum's Lewis and Williams turned to a largely synthetic adhesive to reattach the babies.

Fishhook Found in Mummy
In low-resolution scans of the unwrapped crocodile mummy (such as the lower scan pictured), many details remained hidden. But high-resolution scans (such as the one at top) captured some "exciting" new details, according to Hearst museum conservator Lewis.
For instance, in the crocodile's belly the researchers found skeletal prey remains and a fishhook, which was later shown to be consistent with ancient Egyptian fishhook technology, Lewis said.
The hook—which the crocodile possibly ingested along with its last meal—doesn't look corroded, suggesting it's probably made of bronze, associate conservator Williams added.

 Crocodile, Head-On
Used extensively in the medical world, CT scans (pictured, a head-on view of the unwrapped crocodile mummy) are becoming a "powerful tool" for studying mummies, according to the Hearst museum's conservation blog.
For instance, CT scans of the mummy of Pharaoh Tutankhamun suggest that King Tut may have died of complications from a broken leg and was not a victim of cold-blooded murder.

No comments:

Post a Comment