Science

Scientists Use Particle Accelerator To Look Inside Ancient Mummy

As technology advances, more and more scientific fields begin to intertwine. New equipment unlocks more opportunities for researchers and sheds light on topics that were previously inaccessible. For the first time, the technology of a particle accelerator combines with the field of Egyptology to give us a closer look at what’s inside a 1900 year old mummy.

Ancient Mummy Particle accelerator
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

The Ancient Mummy

The mummy being analyzed is that of a little girl who lived roughly 1900 years ago in Egypt. It’s a significant piece of history, because it’s one of only around 100 “portrait mummies” worldwide. These mummies have an accurate painting of the deceased on the wrappings right over the face, and were introduced to the ancient Egyptians after contact with the Romans.

Before this time period, most mummies featured more ideal images of the deceased, so this departure from the norm gives researchers a rare opportunity to learn more about a young girl who was an important part of history.

The Particle Accelerator

Particle accelerators are an extremely advanced piece of technology with multiple applications, and in this case they were used for an X-ray scattering experiment. This marks the first time that this sort of technology has been used on a Mummy. These accelerators give a detailed breakdown of the various materials of the object in question, and should provide some valuable insight into the details behind this mysterious mummy.

Stuart R. Stock, a research professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, gave a statement explaining the process. “We have some preliminary findings about the various materials, but it will take days before we tighten down the precise answers to our questions. We have confirmed that the shards in the brain cavity are likely solidified pitch, not a crystalline material.”

Goals and Significance

The main goal with the Advanced Photon Source accelerator was to explore the structure of the minerals in the mummy’s bones. The use of this technology allows researchers more information about this little girl without disturbing her wrappings. Scientists are hoping to find how her body was prepared for mummification as well as any items she might have been buried with.

This intersection between Molecular Biology and Egyptology is a prime example of the benefits of scientific collaboration. With access to advanced tools, historians may be able to get a better sense of time periods that were previously shrouded in mystery. We’ll have to wait and see what the scan turns up, but it definitely has potential.