Always wondered what an Egyptian mummy might look like underneath all of its wrappings? Then you may want to head to Stockholm's Medelhavsmuseet, where a new exhibit allows visitors to peel off all the layers right down to the skeleton - with a swipe of a finger!
The museum that specializes in Mediterranean and near Eastern Antiquities, began by digitally scanning all the eight mummies in its possession using a computed tomography (CT) scanner at Linköping University Hospital. Then, working in collaboration with research group Interactive Swedish ICT, they used the scans and some 2D pictures of the coffins and mummies taken from different angles, to create a life-like 3D surface model. These images were then incorporated into an interactive touch-screen display with the help of a proprietary software called Inside Explorer.
The first interactive mummy that will be part of the museum's permanent exhibit called 'The Mummy Returns', was opened to the public in mid-March. It belongs to Egyptian priest Neswaiu, who lived in the third century BC in the temple of the god Montu, located in the modern-day Luxor. Judging from his gilded cartonnage (outer layer), two coffins, large number of amulets as well as small pieces of other jewelry, the museum curators believe that the priest belonged to the upper, wealthier echelon of the Egyptian society. Examination of the remains have led them to believe that Neswaiu was a healthy man who lived to be at least 50 or 60 years, which was considered 'old' during ancient times. They speculate that he died from blood poisoning caused by a tooth infection.
Though visitors will not be able to ascertain all this by looking at the mummy, they will be able to use the digital autopsy table in the 'embalmment room' that lies beside Neswaiu's real mummified remains and coffins, and digitally peel through each of the numerous layers, all the way down to his skeleton.
If peeling one layer at a time seems a little tiresome, they can simply swipe a button and see a cross-section of all the multiple layers of the coffin and body. What makes the exhibit even more fun is that the mummy and its sarcophagus were captured with 360 degree cameras which means that each element can be turned and twisted in 3D space. As Swedish ICT Research Institute director Thomas Rydell succinctly articulates - 'it allows every visitor to become a paleontologist or Indiana Jones for a day'.
Creating digital CT scans to research mummies is not new. Scientists have been doing it for many years. However, this is the first time that visitors have been made privy to the same insights. What's even more exciting is that museums all across the world are looking at this exhibit with great interest and a few are already considering adopting the same technology. This means that you too, may soon be able to unwrap mummies - one layer at a time!
Resources: varldskulturmuseerna.se, fastcompany.com