Discovering amulets inside the mummy

I recently posted about my scanning of a 3,000 year old mummy, Neskhons (original post here). Now, by analyzing the data in several different ranges of electron density, I've found something unexpected: inside the mummy's torso are 4 small funerary amulets.

Looking carefully in this video, you can see them suspended in the body:

                                     

These sorts of amulets were commonly wrapped inside mummies to confer protection during the dangerous journeys of the afterlife. Spells were spoken over the amulets upon placement, as prescribed in the Book of the Dead.

In this next video, I programmed a fly-thru of the 3D space inside the mummy. The amulets are marked with a red dot:
           

Upon getting a first glimpse of their shapes, I guessed that these were so called "theomorphic" amulets--that is, in the shape of dieties and their animal manifestations (as opposed to other funerary amulets in the shape of body parts or animal heads).

CanopicJarsAs it turns out, there are four characters who go together in Egyptian mythology: the four sons of Horus, represented as the jackal, the falcon, the baboon, and the human. These 4 sons, for example, are typically represented on canopic jars which protected the removed inner organs of the dead (stomach, large intestines, lungs and liver).

I began to suspect that these 4 amulets might represent the 4 sons of Horus, so I next zoomed in as closely as I could into the imaging data to resolve the details of the figurines. Using a digital 3D slicing tool, I cut away everything else except for each amulet. Below are the high-resolution reconstructions. Although it is difficult to be certain, my guess is that the first video is the jackal, the second is the human, the third is the baboon, and the last is the falcon.

All of this was accompIished with CT scans, which are a series of Xrays taken from all angles, reconstructed into a 3D whole. Recall that Xrays are just another form of light--just like the light coming out of a flashlight, but of a different frequency.  I remain blown away by the amount of information that can be carried by electromagnetic radiation outside the visible spectrum. There is so much information out there beyond the small slice of the world that can be detected with our natural senses.  I'm so lucky to use machines like this every day. Some of these peer inside skulls to see how brains are processing (radio frequencies in magnetic resonance imaging); others can bring to light figurines that have hovered silently in blackness for 30 centuries (Xray frequencies in CT scans).

To Neskhons, the thought of seeing beyond wrappings and spying treasures in a torso would have seemed like magic. On this point he and I agree.

Leave a comment

From the Blog

  • A note about head shape in mummies
    A note about head shape in mummies

    A few months ago I scanned a 3,000 mummy. What can (and can't) be concluded based on his perspicuously elongated skull shape, known as dolicocephy (elongated head)?  

  • Profile in The New Yorker
    Profile in The New Yorker

    I had the pleasure of being profiled by my favorite magazine, The New Yorker.  Read the article here.

  • Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization
    Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization

    Watch a talk I gave at the Long Now Foundation about my hopes that the advent of the internet will mitigate threats that brought down previous civilizations.

  • Why I am a Possibilian
    Why I am a Possibilian

    Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story is true or not true. I call myself a possibilian. Find out why.

Newsflashes

New Yorker magazine profile

Read a profile of David in The New Yorker: The Possibilian: What a brush with death taught David Eagleman about the mysteries of time and the brain by Burkhard Bilger.
Eagleman in the New Yorker

How the Internet will save civilization

David's iPad app "Why the Net Matters, or Six Ways to Avert the Collapse of Civilization" was recently called a "superbook" by the New York Times Magazine. For a taste of the argument, read David's article in WIRED or watch a video of his talk at the Long Now Foundation. Don't have an iPad? The manuscript is now available as an eBook.

6 Ways the Internet Will Save Civilization

Read David's new article in Wired magazine: "Apocalyse? No. Six Ways the Internet Will Save Civilization"

You are here:   HomeBlogDiscovering amulets inside the mummy


Coming in 2014