Washington: An international team of scientists are trying out a new technique of using airport body scanners to conduct tests on ancient mummies.The chemically preserved bodies are usually investigated with conventional X-rays or computer tomography scans, which provide the clearest images, reports discoverynews.com.
However, ionizing radiation used by X-rays and CT scans can destroy highly fragmented ancient DNA. But the terahertz radiations of body scanners are completely harmless to human cells and don`t destroy tissue.
According to anatomist and paleopathologist Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and one of the world`s top mummy experts, ancient dry specimens are ideal for imaging with the technology.
"We found that this non-invasive imaging method is well suited for the investigation of ancient mummified soft tissues and embalming related substances," Rühli said.
Body scanners used at airports and other areas cannot penetrate the heavily hydrated human body, but they can easily go through desiccated mummies.
Researchers from the University of Freiburg in Germany tested low power terahertz waves by scanning an ancient Egyptian mummified fish, the hand of a 3,300-year-old Egyptian mummy and a macerated human lumbar vertebra.
Although the obtained images were not as clear as X-rays and CT scans, the terahertz imaging could distinguish bone and cartilaginous structures from surrounding soft tissues. It was also possible to identify major anatomical features such as the fish`s spine and human metacarpal bones.
"This harmless technology can also be used for detection of hidden objects such as funerary amulets or metallic objects hidden in bandaging, not to mention the possibility of identifying chemical substances and essences used in the embalming process," Rühli said.
Following the success of their experiment, the scientists are now planning to use the technology on larger samples.
"Our goal is to possibly scan a whole mummy," Rühli concluded.
First Published: Sunday, June 20, 2010, 09:14