In 2011, I 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).
As 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.
"A popularizer of impressive gusto...[Eagleman] aims, grandly, to do for the study of the mind what Copernicus did for the study of the stars."
- New York Observer
"David Eagleman may be the best combination of scientist and fiction-writer alive."
- Stewart Brand
"[A] neuroscientist and polymath."
- Wall Street Journal
"David Eagleman offers startling lessons.... His method is to ask us to cast off our lazy commonplace assumptions.
- The Guardian
"Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness."
- The New Yorker
"What Eagleman seems to be calling for is a new Enlightenment."
- Sunday Herald
"David Eagleman is the kind of guy who really does make being a neuroscientist look like fun."
- New York Times