Pitt may unravel mummy mystery
The child mummy entombed in glass on the third floor of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has kept a secret for more than two millenniums.
Today, scientists and doctors will peek at what the little mummy has been hiding.
"It is a medical mystery," said Tanya Lucio, a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who is doing a research project on the mummy. "We're hoping to be able to solve it."
The mummy will undergo a computed tomography, or CT, scan at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh as part of the research that grew out of a Pitt class on the history of medicine, taught by museum curators. The scan will not be open to the public.
In 1986, doctors at Forbes Metropolitan Health Center in Wilkinsburg took X-rays of the mummy and found it had a large head but a small body. The wrist bones indicate the toddler-sized mummy was about 8 years old when the child died, but doctors couldn't determine the cause of death or the mummy's gender from the bones.
The mummy appears to have a form of macrocephaly, a medical term for an enlarged head that can be caused by a number of conditions including dwarfism or brain injury. It has a curved back and elongated torso.
"What it boils down to is this mummy, this child, seems to have too large of a head for its body," said Kate McFadden, an assistant professor of neuropathology at Pitt's School of Medicine who will help diagnose the child's condition.
Swiss Egyptologist Henri Edouard Naville found the mummy in 1912 while excavating a cemetery in the central Egyptian city of Abydos. It dates to the Early Ptolemaic Period, about 2,300 years ago, and was in a tomb containing seven adults, each in limestone sarcophagi, and four other children in wooden coffins.
This child mummy was the only one in good enough condition for display. It was sent to the Carnegie Museum shortly after the discovery.
The body is wrapped in a linen cloth and decorated with layers of plaster painted to look like a person wearing a wig, breastplate and sandals.
"It seemed to be a family burial," said Sandra Olsen, a curator at the museum. "They weren't royalty per se, but they may have been a fairly well-to-do family."
For 17 years, the museum has displayed the mummy in its Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt. It was removed Monday but will be back on display next week.
The CT scan will allow researchers to create a three-dimensional image of the child without disturbing the wrappings. Doctors hope to see the teeth -- which weren't visible in the 1986 X-ray because of the angle of the head -- to help confirm the child's estimated age at death.
Facial features might help diagnose why the child's head was so large because some forms of macrocephaly result in facial deformities. If the soft tissue is intact, it could be possible to determine the mummy's gender.
The museum plans to create a model of the child's face by molding clay onto a plastic skull using images from the CT scan. The model would be displayed near the mummy.
"The facial reconstruction, hopefully, won't look like just an average individual," Olsen said. "It will be something truly different and interesting."
Fuente: Pittsburgh Tribune Review
In 1986, doctors at Forbes Metropolitan Health Center in Wilkinsburg took X-rays of a mummy on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum