Research Press Release

Archaeology: X-ray imaging provides unique snapshot of ancient animal mummification

Scientific Reports

August 21, 2020

Analysis of three mummified animals ― a cat, a bird and a snake ― from Ancient Egypt using advanced 3D X-ray imaging is described in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The technique provides insights into the conditions in which the animals were kept, their complex mummification process and their possible causes of death, without causing damage to the specimens.

Richard Johnston and colleagues used non-invasive X-ray microCT imaging to reveal the skull of the cat to be around half the size of the external mummified wrappings. Its morphology suggests that the remains likely belong to an Egyptian domestic cat. Analysis of images of the teeth and skeleton indicate that the cat was less than five months old and may have purposefully had its neck broken at the time of death or during the mummification process to keep the head in an upright position.

Measurements taken using 3D scans of the mummified bird of prey suggest that the remains most closely resemble the Eurasian kestrel and that the animal did not appear to have died from injuries to the neck. Imaging of the tightly coiled snake suggests that the remains belong to a juvenile cobra, which may have been killed by spinal fracture, consistent with tail capture and whipping methods commonly used to kill snakes. The high-resolution imaging enabled the authors to identify structures found within the mouth of the mummified snake as hardened resin. The precise placement at the opening of the glottis possibly provides evidence for complex ritualistic behaviour, similar to the Opening of the Mouth procedure.

An improved understanding of animal mummification through scientific imaging may inform future conservation work and shed light on past human-animal relationships.


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