Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Amulets of Seramon

The title of this post sounds like something straight out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, as far as I can tell, no actual vampires are associated with these amulets -- just a 3000 year old royal scribe and middle-class Egyptian mummy by the name of Seramon. A very nice article on this mummy and its amulets was just published on the science section of Apple's website.

Unlike a Buffy episode, Seroman and his wrapping remain undefiled in the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology in Besançon, France. Unlike Sunnydale, California, Besançon remains unhaunted by vengeful mummies, and any dread curses triggered by disturbance of the body seem to be on permanent hold. These artifacts were visualized using a CT scanner at the local hospital. The CT data was then reconstructed into high resolution 3D images using imaging software running on various Apple Macintosh computers. The resulting images were apparently detailed enough to read the spell from the Book of the Dead inscribed in hieroglyphs on the undersurface of a 48 x 32 x 18mm stone scarab.

Mummy CT is not a new story. CT has been used since 1979 to image mummies all over the world. However, the quality of the CT images has continued to improve immensely over the years, and the 3D reconstruction algorithms available today provide extremely natural-looking images.

The imaging of this mummy is also noteworthy in that it is
the first time wax amulets have been discovered in situ with non-invasive techniques.
Stone, metal and bone stand out on CT images rather well from other body organs. However, the beeswax used for these amulets has a CT density very similar to that of the mummy's soft tissues.

Our department is periodically asked to image paleoradiology patients such as this, including non-human specimens from mastodons, deep sea angler fish, and ancient musical instruments. When these kinds of cases roll in through our doors, it's a great day to come to work.

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