Can Oklahoma CT scanner unlock the shrouded secrets of two ancient mummies?

September 02, 2015
by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter
The two deceased women arrived at St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital shrouded in mystery. They will now call that institution home as physicians use a 64-slice CT scanner to unwrap the details of their lives... and deaths.

It's not a shock to those involved in this case that so little is known about them.

The pair are mummies and one from Egypt, known as Tutu, is about 2,400 years old. The other one is Roman and thought to be a few hundred years younger.

Both had been on exhibit at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art in Shawnee, Okla., where monks in the early morning blessed them before they took their spots in special containers to control the climate and preserve them as they made their mile-long journey to the hospital's ER. There they were hoisted onto gurneys for their trip to their new home.

The pair will be scanned with high-dose radiation, at levels unsafe for the living, in order to produce the best images possible.

Technological advances through the years allowed researchers to continue to learn new things from old finds, and led to the mummies' hospital visit.

“Technology has really changed a lot in the last 25 years — the last time the mummies were tested,” Dane Pollei, director and chief curator at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art told The Shawnee News-Star.

Radiologist Dr. Ryan Skinner added that thanks to the new 64-slice CT scanner at St. Anthony's, “we should be able to detect any incisions, possible trauma and gender, among other things.”

Robert Pickering, professor of anthropology at the University of Tulsa, has studied mummy scans seven times since 1988, including interpreting Tutu's last exam in 1993. He told KFOR News that with each new advance, we can "ask new questions; objects in museums can tell us new stories," adding that this allows us to learn "how they lived... and how they died.”

The trip and examinations required three months of careful planning.

Already, researchers have made a helpful diagnosis for Tutu. She had arthritis in her back, although no treatment is indicated at this point. But as she had her organs removed and then returned to her body cavity during mummification, and wore an ornate mask and breastplate, she is thought to have been of a higher status than the Roman-era mummy, who had neither and was wrapped only in linen.

The Roman-era woman’s bones also bore evidence that she had been malnourished, which scientists believe also suggests she was poorer than Tutu. “We know that her life was much more difficult,” Delaynna Trim, the museum’s curator of collections, told NewsOK.

In 2013, CT scans of ancient mummies helped scientists confirm that heart disease is not a uniquely common problem. Instead, atherosclerosis was found in 35 percent of the mummies examined.