In many a B-movie plot, disturbing a mummy resulted in a horrible curse on an unlucky archaeologist. Perhaps those days are over, now that scientists have reconstructed the face of a mummified Egyptian man without removing his 3,000-year-old bandages.
A team of Italian researchers used multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) for the first time to create a 3-D model of a mummy from the Egyptian Museum in Torino, Italy. With 355 separate scans, the collaborators identified bone and dried tissues, and determined where skin ended and bandages began. "The only other way to have gotten the information we got from MDCT would have been to unwrap, destroy and otherwise alter the conservation of the bandages and the mummy," says lead author Federico Cesarani of the Struttura Operativa Complessa di Radiodiagnostica in Asti, Italy. A forensic artist combined the data into a plasticine and nylon sculpture.
The man behind the bandages was an artisan, named Harwa, who lived in the XXII or XXIII dynasty (945-715 B.C.). The virtual unwrapping, described in this month's issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, revealed an individual who was about 45 years old at the time of his death. The brain is missing--apparently removed through the nose in what was a common embalming procedure. There are no obvious signs of disease, but Harwa did have poor teeth. The detail in the images is so good that a mole on Harwa's left temple is discernible.
Cesarani and his colleagues decided to not add any hair or skin tone to their model because those would have been strictly artistic interpretations. They also stress that their method does not accurately describe how chubby Harwa's face may have been, as fat does not leave any signatures on the skull. --Michael Schirber