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Friday, January 15, 2010

Secrets of the mummy: Scanner will reveal if 4,000-year-old Egyptian was preserved with bird inside its body as an afterlife offering

By Daily Mail Reporter

A 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy was taken on a bizarre day trip today to try and unlock some of the secrets of the ancient world.
The relic is usually held at the Barnum Museum in Connecticut, but was shuttled to Quinnipiac University in an unusual procession, to be studied using the institution's high-tech hospital scanner.

The tests could answer questions on whether a mysterious packet inside her body was a mummified bird killed as an offering to the gods to help secure the woman a place in the afterlife.
Researchers might also be able to learn more about the woman's life on earth, including her age and whether she had children.

Mystery: Kathy Maher, executive director at the Barnum Museum, examines the mummy's empty casket

Experts today carefully packed the mummy into a modern-day coffin provided by local undertakers and transported in hearse with a police escort.

The mummy, known as Pa-Ib and believed to date from around 2,000 BC, was a prized exhibit of the flamboyant US showman P.T. Barnum and has been in the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut, since the 1890s.
Scientists will then be able to peer inside the mummified remains in unprecedented detail using a Toshiba 64-slice CT scanner usually used for diagnosing diseases in living patients.
It has a resolution eight times better than another scanner used on the same mummy in 2006, when tests revealed a number of packages inside the abdominal cavity.
One archaeologist speculated one of these bundles could be a bird mummy, a prospect that has excited Egyptologists.
Preserved: the torso of a 4,000-year-old mummy Pa-Ib being wrapped before being taken for scans

The pelvis also showed some evidence that the woman had given birth, but the original data was erased to make way for patient scans.
The latest scans could shed yield new discoveries which could prove important to archaeologists' understanding of ancient rituals.
'It really is going to give us a fantastic view of this mummy,' said Professor Ronald Beckett, co-director of the Bioanthropology Research Institute at Quinnipiac.
'Every mummy has a story to tell. Every piece of information adds to our understanding of the ancient Egyptians.'
Lorelei Corcoran, director of the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at the University of Memphis, called the mummy 'extremely unusual'.
'It just gives us another example of this very intriguing phenomenon of bringing a gift with you to the afterlife,' she said.
Dr Corcoran said she knows of only two other human mummies with bird mummies, one at the J. Paul Getty Museum in California and another in Switzerland.
She said birds such as the falcon and ibis were associated with the Egyptian god Thoth, who was believed to play an influential role in the final stage of judgement of the dead.
'He's the one whose opinion you would want to influence in order to get to the eternal afterlife,' she said.
Delicate: curators carefully move the head and body ready to be transported to the scanner

Colleen Manassa, assistant professor of Egyptology at Yale University, said the likelihood of a bird mummy inside a human mummy would be 'highly improbable' if the human mummy is 4,000 years old, as the museum believes, because Egyptians were not embalming animals around that time.
She said the mummy is likely to be younger, which would mean there could be a bird mummy inside, but it would still be highly unusual.
'It would make it a very important mummy,' Prof Manassa said, by showing the practice of animal offerings was not just done at temples.
Prof Manassa said the closest time parallel is a case at an Egyptian museum in which a baboon was mummified and wrapped in a bundle that was placed over the mummified and wrapped body of a woman separately more than 3,000 years ago.
Prof Beckett said the packets may turn out to be organs, which were taken out of the body, preserved and placed back in the mummy for use in the afterlife.
'Wouldn't it be wonderful if it turned out to be a bird?' he said. 'It's just so rare that it would be that we would be surprised.'
Prof Beckett said he does not believe the woman was royalty, saying her worn teeth suggest the diet of a commoner.
Determining the cause of death will be difficult, researchers say, but they might be able to offer a range of diseases from which the mummified woman could have suffered, such as arthritis.