Children's Hospital Colorado

Denver Museum of Nature & Science and Children's Hospital Colorado Partner to Scan Mummies

9News | April 19, 2016
A 3,500-year-old mummy prepares to be scanned to uncover additional scientific understanding
A 3,500-year-old mummy prepares to be scanned to uncover additional scientific understanding

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science partnered with Children’s Hospital Colorado to scan two mummies and a sarcophagus from the Museum’s Egyptian Mummies exhibit. Children’s Colorado donated its time, expertise and equipment to allow the Museum to perform new CT scans of the mummies on April 18, getting high-resolution scans in multiple wavelengths to increase and update the scientific understanding of these items from the Museum’s collections.

Partnership combines history with state-of-the-art technology and medical expertise

The mummies had previously been scanned in 1991. Thanks to advances in technology, the April 18 scans provide more detailed images, increasing the potential for new scientific understanding of the artifacts once scientists have had the chance to analyze the new data.

The Museum and Children’s Colorado have enjoyed a long-standing partnership. Children’s Colorado has generously supported other Museum programs such as Passport to Health, which aims to empower and inspire participants toward healthy living through teacher workshops, in-class physiology lessons, field trips to Expedition Health, a family day at the Museum with health-related activities and a Museum membership for all participants. Additionally, the hospital participates in special events and SCFD Community Free Days, providing activities and lending expertise to programming.

“Our ongoing partnership allows us to engage in our passion for science, medicine, the human body, nutrition, exercise and the overall health and well-being of our community,” said Christy Dobson, director of corporate and community relations at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “The mummy transport is a unique example of our two worlds coming together; combining history with state-of-the art technology and medical expertise.”

Engaging passion for science, medicine and the human body to uncover 3,500-year-old history

Inspired by The Field Museum’s recent re-scanning of its mummies in 2011 and the valuable data that endeavor bore, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science embarked upon a similar project. The 1991 scan of the two mummies yielded information that Museum scientists interpreted at the time as indicating that one mummy had been relatively wealthy during her lifetime, which serves as the foundation for the Rich Mummy/Poor Mummy storyline in the exhibition. With the progression of technology and scientific knowledge, the Museum may re-interpret the story told in its permanent mummies exhibit based on the information these latest scans revealed.

The first mummy scan began at 7:55 p.m., and within seconds revealed astounding images. While it will take time to review and interpret the images, scientists at the scene were excited by the clarity and detail of the images.

“This is an incredible opportunity for the Museum and for the field of archaeology,” Michele Koons, Denver Museum of Nature & Science curator of archaeology said. “A scientist may not get such an opportunity during her career. It’s been a privilege to work with such a dedicated team of medical and Museum professionals.”

Advances in CT scan technology reveal new secrets of the ancient artifacts

In addition to the CT scans, several other minimally invasive tests will be done to further scientific understanding while protecting the integrity of the artifacts, including:

  • Radiocarbon dating of very small samples of the linens and possible other organic materials that are exposed when the mummies are going through conservation.
  • Isotope analysis of the linen.
  • Core sampling of the sarcophagi to use in tree ring dating.
  • Pigment samples from sarcophagi lids/ bases for pigment identification.
  • Portable X-ray fluorescence analysis to determine the composition of the amulets and other items in the wrappings.

The full analysis of the CT scans and other tests are expected to be complete by the end of the year.

For additional coverage, watch the story from 9News.