ROM Mummies Undergo CT Scans

The ROM and the University of Western Ontario work together to learn more about mummies that have been at the ROM for nearly a century

A joint research initiative between the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and London’s University of Western Ontario (UWO) continues with the CT scan of a mummy from the ROM’s renowned Egyptian collection on October 29, 2007. The ROM’s Roberta Shaw, Assistant Curator of Egyptology in the Museum’s World Cultures department, Dr. Rethy Chhem of the London Health Sciences Centre, and Dr. Andrew Nelson of Western’s Department of Anthropology (and also a Research Associate at the ROM), are using cutting edge technology to work together to learn more details of the lives and deaths of three mummies, one adult and two infants, that have been in the ROM’s collection for nearly a century.

On October 29, the adult mummy will undergo a non-invasive CT (computerized tomography) scan to learn more about what lies under its fragile wrappings. The CT apparatus, recently acquired by UWO, uses the leading technology available for such purposes. Essentially, the CT scan is an imaging method that creates cross-sectional (3-D) images of the body. Using this technology, the hope is to discover new information about the mummies’ lives, and why they died.

In mid-August 2007, upon the request of UWO, the one adult and two infant mummies traveled from Toronto to London, Ontario. Soon upon arrival, CT scans were performed on the two infant mummies. This investigation demonstrated that both infants died at, or shortly after, birth. The skeleton of one of the infants is in quite a damaged state, probably the result of poor mummification and damage to the brittle ligaments over the years. This infant is covered by a painted shroud, is 22 inches long, and ROM's curators have determined that it dated to Egypt's Roman period, approximately 1st century AD. The second infant mummy, now known to be a boy, is partially unwrapped. This second infant shows a piece of wood that was introduced to support the skull during the process of mummification. There are no markings to indicate anything about this child’s life or death, nor are there records to determine how either of these infant mummies came to the Museum. However, they were possibly acquired by Museum founder Charles Trick Currelly, before 1910.

The adult mummy was found in the coffin belonging to a low ranking priest known as a “wab-priest” and was excavated by Egyptologist Edouard Naville at Deir el-Bahari in 1906-7. The mummy dates to about 1000 BC, the XXIst Dynasty. Though the coffin it was found in is inscribed for a male, the mummy’s sex is unknown. This is something that the CT-scan will determine. The mummy is five feet (152.5 cm) tall. It is swathed in many layers of bandages, perhaps as many as eighteen layers and it is expected that artifacts/amulets may be discovered under the bandages. The skull is damaged and the exposed hair is partially detached from the skull. This mummy was likely acquired by the Museum’s founder, Charles Trick Currelly while working with Edouard Naville.

Scans of mummies are being performed with increasing frequency all over the world. The University has already used these techniques on other ancient remains. The new information gleaned from this investigation of the three ROM mummies will be added to the existing data base, providing the beginning of a mummy data bank. Eventually this information will help in studying the health, living conditions and funeral practices of numerous ancient populations.

It is interesting to note that these CT scans occur around the thirtieth anniversary of a groundbreaking use of the technology on another ROM mummy, belonging to Djed-maat-es-ankh, one of the highlights of the ROM’s Gallery of Africa: Egypt.