A mummy's secrets: Serendipity, Computed Tomography and non-invasive x-ray diffraction

S. R. Stock*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


Contents of a Roman-era Egyptian mummy (Hawara portrait mummy 4, HPM4) were investigated by clinical Computed Tomography (CT) and position-resolved, high-energy, microbeam x-ray diffraction at the Advanced Photon Source (APS). The combined techniques provide a more complete picture of the mummy than either could alone. From CT, the person within the mummy was about five years old at death, there was no evidence of skeletal trauma and the team inferred female biological sex. Other foci of the CT investigation were moderate absorption shards within the skull cavity, identified as resin; the layers of linen wrapping the mummy, in particular one layer which appeared to be heavily impregnated with bitumen or pitch; wires (specimen pins) apparently added during earlier restorations of HPM4 and a large, high attenuation inclusion located in the wrappings above the abdomen. The CT data also provided a 3D "roadmap"guiding the diffraction experiments, the first of their kind performed in situ on an intact mummy. A ray tracing technique was developed to identify where along the x-ray beam path diffraction signals originated, and in all of the cases, precision were 1-2 mm. Further, the diffraction origins matched positions of these features in the CT scan. Diffraction identified the wires as modern dual phase steel matching that of a reference specimen pin and the inclusion above the abdomen as calcite, possibly a carved scarab. The cross-sections of the skull and of the femora were mapped accurately with the technique, but the desire to minimize potential beam damage to HPM4 dictated that very short integration times were used and the signal to noise ratio was too low for detailed analysis of the bone diffraction patterns. The CT plus diffraction approach to studying the contents of mummies adds very important information, but the logistics of transporting a mummy first to a CT scanner and then to a synchrotron radiation source mean that the approach will probably only be used to solve key mysteries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDevelopments in X-Ray Tomography XIII
EditorsBert Muller, Ge Wang
ISBN (Electronic)9781510645189
StatePublished - 2021
EventDevelopments in X-Ray Tomography XIII 2021 - San Diego, United States
Duration: Aug 1 2021Aug 5 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X
ISSN (Electronic)1996-756X


ConferenceDevelopments in X-Ray Tomography XIII 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego


  • Computed tomography
  • Egypt
  • High energy x-rays
  • Mummy
  • Synchrotron x-radiation
  • X-ray diffraction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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