December 5, 2000


  • Virtual 3D CT provides Emory University researchers with new information about ancient mummies.

  • Virtual CT shows whether mummies were royalty or of a lower class and suggests how they might have died.

  • One of 9 mummies imaged may be Ramsses I, founder of the most powerful dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs.


CHICAGO - Researchers are taking virtual three- dimensional tours of Egyptian mummies, learning details never before available without destroying the priceless remains, thanks to advances in computed tomography (CT) imaging, according to an Emory University study being presented here today at the 86th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

One of the 9 human mummies being studied may be 3,000-year-old Ramsses I, first ruler of the 19th dynasty, and grandfather of Ramsses the Great, one of the most powerful and best known pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. The virtual imaging revealed valuable information, including the finding that the mummy's skull was filled with molten resin, an embalming fluid reserved only for a person of royal status. CT images of the chest and abdomen reveal an incision in the left abdomen and replacement of abdominal organs with tightly rolled linen packs, mummification techniques practiced during the reign of Ramsses I.

"Although there are studies of mummies using standard CT, this is the first to combine the use of 3D and virtual imaging techniques," said Heidi Hoffman, M.D., principal researcher and resident in the department of radiology, Emory University Hospital, Atlanta. "It's like exploring the insides of the mummies with a camera, without unwrapping them or destroying them in any way."

Virtual reality imaging involves taking a number of cross-sectional CT pictures, or "slices" of the body, and entering the images into a computer. The computer digitizes them, combining the scans to create a 3D image. The radiologist can direct the computer to make a pass or "fly-through" in a particular area to gather specific information.

The researchers were able to determine that the ear of the mummy believed to be Ramsses I was very deformed, perhaps as the result of a bad piercing, and that he might not have been circumcised. He also appears to have suffered from a severe and destructive ear infection, which may have been the cause of death.

The mummies were acquired by Emory's Michael C. Carlos Museum in May, 1999.

Findings in other mummies:
  • Using virtual CT to enter the skull through the nose of one mummy, researchers found the Egyptians had punctured a hole through the bone in the nose, through which they apparently pulled out the brain as they were preparing the corpse for burial.

  • Virtual CT showed organs were still intact in some mummies, indicating those mummies were of a lower class and that mummification techniques varied with dynasty and class.

One mummy initially thought to be a baby was determined to be a young child whose legs were amputated below the knees. This same mummy has bone damage in the right elbow indicating he probably suffered from infection.

A small child had a skull fracture, which may have been the cause of death.

Other mummies imaged included several women, a Roman general and a priest.

Co-authors of a paper on the topic being presented at RSNA by Dr. Hoffman are William E. Torres, M.D., Randy D. Ernst, M.D., Eric F. Mutz, M.D., Kaye P. Barefield, M.D. and Steve Goldschmid, M.D.

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