Peering into a mummy without unwrapping it

4:27 min

The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in central Stockholm is opening a new permanent exhibition on Egyptian history, including ancient Egypt. The exhibit is filled with artifacts from 7,000 years of Egyptian history, including everything from baskets to brooms to board games from thousands of years ago. And of course, what exhibit on ancient Egyptian history would be complete without mummies?

One of the highlights is the mummy Neswaiu, who museum-goers can now see deep inside of, thanks to 3D technologies.

In front of a glass case containing the beautiful mummy, wrapped in linen and decorated in blue and gold, stands Sofia Häggman, who is both an egyptologist and the director of the museum. She explains that Neswaiu lived in the third century B.C. and worked as a priest in Thebes at the temple of Montu, the falcon-headed god of war.

"That's about all we know about him from writings on the coffin," Häggman tells Radio Sweden.  

Häggman, however, has been able to learn more about Neswaiu because of cutting edge imaging technology, which Thomas Rydell, from the Interactive Institute, demonstrates. Moving his hands around a giant tabletop touchscreen, he shows how visitors can virtually peek inside the mummy's wrappings all the way through to its skeleton.

To visualize all this information, all the layers of the mummy, Rydell and his colleagues did not have to unwrap it. Rather, they brought the mummy to a hospital to have it CAT scanned.

"You have to understand that you're actually dealing with human beings," says Rydell, adding, "Quite often you think of them as mummies, but you have to be really respectful."

Rydell and his colleagues have also used another technology to explore what lies beneath the Neswaiu's wrappings. The scan revealed that more than 120 amulets that were embedded in the mummy. Rydell and his team took the 3D image of one of these amulets, in the shape of a falcon, and printed it out with a 3D printer, so even though the falcon has been hidden within the mummy for thousands of years and remains there to this day, it is now possible to hold a copy of the amulet in one's hand.