Uncovering the secrets of the Rhind mummy

Summary 

Research in medical imaging technology shines new light on 2,000-year-old mummy.

What was the problem? 

Excavated from a tomb in Egypt, the Rhind mummy was brought to Scotland by archaeologist Alexander Henry Rhind in 1857. Now part of the National Museum of Scotland’s collection, it has remained unwrapped in its original binding. A non-invasive approach was therefore needed to learn more about the mummy’s life and death.

Although it had been examined 15 years ago, this pre-digital procedure had limited results. Working with National Museums Scotland as they prepared their ‘Fascinating Mummies’ exhibition in 2012, Dr Kranioti’s expertise helped deliver a never-before-seen view inside this ancient mummy.

What did we do? 

The project initially involved a team from the University’s Clinical Imaging Research Centre led by Professor van Beek, who used a CT scanner to gather new and more detailed digital images of the unwrapped mummy. Using this new data, Dr Kranioti was able to create biomedical imaging of the skeletal remains beneath the bandages which was then used to determine the mummy’s age, sex, stature, health and ethnicity.

The imaging revealed that the mummy was an Egyptian female aged 25 to 29, 5ft 2in tall, dating to around 10BC. In addition to the biological information, a scroll was discovered in her right hand.

Dr Kranioti was able to closely examine the soft tissue, the skeleton and even the inside of the sarcophagus. This detailed virtual examination led to the discovery of previously unknown details about the life and death of this 2,000-year-old Egyptian woman, without causing any damage or disturbance to the wrapped mummy and its artefacts.

[T]he most exciting discovery of Fascinating Mummies, the first major show in the National Museum of Scotland's splendidly refurbished galleries, is the speed at which non-invasive investigative techniques are developing.
Jenny Gilbert, The Independent, 26 February 2012
What happened next? 

The images Dr Kranioti created were featured in the ‘Fascinating Mummies’ exhibition which attracted over 61,000 visitors between February and May 2012. Visitor comments praised the ‘new dimension’ added by the ‘modern technology meets Ancient Egypt’ approach. Media outlets including the Independent and Scotland on Sunday, the BBC History and STV websites, and radiology news site AuntMinnie.com all covered the exhibition. Dr Kranioti also held a sell-out public lecture and workshop at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Edinburgh-based imaging company Holoxica created an animated Rhind Mummy hologram based on Dr Kranioti’s 3D models, which reveals the mummy’s skull under the wrappings. The hologram was selected for exhibition at the MIT Museum collection of holography, one of the largest in the world and Holoxica went on to win the Nexxus Scotland Collaboration Award for their work on the Rhind Mummy in 2011.

As a result of the public prominence of her work, the Forensic Unit of Police Scotland invited Dr Kranioti to speak about the uses of 3D scan technology to identify weapons in cases of assault or death. This was linked by video conferencing with Police Forensic Departments throughout Scotland and over 100 scientific staff attended.

About the researcher(s)

Lecturer in Forensic Anthropology

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Archaeology

Funder(s)

  • The University of Edinburgh
  • National Museums Scotland

Related study programmes