Revealed: The 3,000 year old embalming secrets of Egyptian mummies thanks to fascinating MRI scans

A student has uncovered the 3,000-year-old  secrets of seven Egyptian mummies – after scanning them at a Manchester  hospital.

Abeer Helmi was stunned when curators at the  British Museum in London agreed to loan out the priceless artefacts for her  research project.

Curators even agreed to drive the mummies 200  miles north to be tested in a CT scanner, designed for examining hospital  patients.

Inside look: A mummy from British Museum after being scanned at Manchester Royal Infirmar

Inside look: A mummy from the British Museum after being  scanned at Manchester Royal Infirmary

The Manchester University researcher and  doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary used modern technology to see inside the  mummies’ bandages without disturbing the delicate bodies or their  wrappings.

The powerful rays were able to shed light on  the techniques used to preserve the bodies, along with information about their  diets and health.

The scans also revealed metals amulets and  charms, concealed inside the wrappings, which are thought to have been placed  there to protect the dead during their journey to the underworld.

The casket of one of the Egyptian mummies as it is just about to enter the scanner

The casket of one of the Egyptian mummies as it is just  about to enter the scanner

The seven bodies – aged from about 12 to  their mid-50s – date from around 900BC when mummification technology was at its  peak.

They were shipped to Manchester by a  specialist delivery firm, escorted by a member of museum staff.

The scans were undertaken over several weeks,  during evenings and weekends when the scanner was not being used by  patients.

Egyptian-born PhD student Abeer, 42, who  worked at Cairo Museum before studying in Manchester, impressed bosses at the  British Museum with her knowledge of the ancient world.

One of the British Museum mummies being scanned by Manchester University PhD student Abeer Helmi at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

One of the British Museum mummies being scanned by  Manchester University PhD student Abeer Helmi at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

She said the detailed images had already  improved knowledge on the period.

‘We had to hire a company that specialised in  transporting works of art to drive them to the hospital in two shipments.

‘They were accompanied at all times by a  member of staff.

‘They are very delicate and still covered in  their casing.

‘Using this technique allowed us see exactly  how they were wrapped and also learn about their health.’

The team also found how the mummies were kept  in the correct position even after death.

Abeer Helmi, the student who persuaded curators at the British Museum in London to loan out the priceless artefacts for her research project.

Abeer Helmi, the student who persuaded curators at the  British Museum in London to loan out the priceless artefacts for her research  project.

‘We spotted wooden struts inside the  wrappings which were used to support the bodies after death, and abnormalities  in two of the mummies,’ she explained.

Doctors at the hospital have been working  closely with Manchester University experts for the last 30 years.

All 35 human mummies in the Manchester  Museum’s collection have already been scanned by experts at the hospital, along  with dozens of mummified animals in the museum’s collection.

A mummy from the British Museum being scanned by Manchester University PhD student Abeer Helmi at Manchester Royal Infirmary

A mummy from the British Museum being scanned by  Manchester University PhD student Abeer Helmi at Manchester Royal Infirmary

Egyptologist Prof Rosalie David, who  supervised the study, said: ‘This type of technique is now often used on  mummified remains.

‘But the fact the British Museum was prepared  to transport these artefacts is a mark of how highly the team at Manchester  Royal Infirmary is regarded.’

Judith Adams, a consultant radiologist at the  hospital who helped Abeer with her work, joked: ‘It’s something of a change from  our normal patients.

‘But we’ve had a long-standing collaboration  with Egyptologists in Manchester.

‘We’re able to look at the bodies from a  medical point of view and give our opinion on how these people lived and their  health in general.’

Saving face: The ornamental painted exterior of one of the caskets scanned as part of the experiment

Saving face: The ornamental painted exterior of one of  the caskets scanned as part of the experiment 

Earlier this year the faces of ancient  Egyptians went on show in Manchester.

The portraits painted on to panels that  covered the heads of mummies form part of an exhibition at the city’s John  Rylands Library.

The panels, which have rarely been shown in  public, were bequeathed to Manchester Museum by cotton magnate Jesse Haworth in  1921.

The museum’s Egyptology curator Campbell  Price said they depicted people who looked ‘strikingly modern’.

A full body scan of one of the British Museum's mummies

A full body scan of one of the British Museum’s  mummies

 

The scans also revealed the metal trinkets placed inside the caskets.

The scans also revealed the metal trinkets placed inside  the caskets.

 

The scans were able to reveal the exact location of bones within the casket

The scans were able to reveal the exact location of  bones within the casket

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