Mummified Egyptian head gets local 3-D scanning

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By Carol A. Clark

Small front teeth and swirled, matted hair are visible on the mummified head former Los Alamos resident Anita Petty escorted to Alpine Laser Dental on Trinity Drive Tuesday.

To obtain some digital images of the small, gold-flecked head, Petty placed it through an Iluma 3-D scanner owned by Dr. Curtis Brookover, DDS.

This X-ray computed tomography machine, built by IMTEC Corporation, a 3M Company with offices located in Los Alamos, is used to obtain x-ray images for dental purposes.

“This may be a 3- or 4-year-old child because there’s not much of a root structure there yet,” said Brookover as he surveyed images of the mouth and jaw area.

Brookover mentioned that dominant cheekbones are traditionally a female trait. Generally speaking, square teeth are masculine and oval teeth are female. The teeth on the small head appear square.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “How many days do you get something like this to look at?”

It’s interesting to be able to see the ideal growth of a full mid-face development – the width of the maxilla in relation to the cranial base, Brookover said. The problem today with the industrial age, he said, is so many kids are “mouth breathers” due to airway obstructions from allergies and allergens, which compromises growth and development of the maxilla, posture and alignment of the teeth – problems they didn’t have back then.

“The kids grew so predictably well,” he said.

With advanced scanning equipment such as Brookover’s Iluma, Petty said researchers can look at mummies with a fresh eye. She is the Operations Manager at OrthoProof USA, a digital orthodontic model company in Albuquerque. She contacted IMTEC in Los Alamos to find out who in the area might have a three dimensional scanner and was directed to Brookover’s dental clinic.

“There’s a lot that can be learned here,” she said as the well-preserved head went through the 360-degree scan in some 40 seconds.

While a detailed scan was created and immediately available for viewing, a very high resolution scan also was performed to give extremely detailed renderings of the head. It would take another eight hours for the computer to process all the data captured from this second scan, Petty said.

“Dr. Brookover can do dental analysis to tell us the age and general health of this child,” she said. “There are other specialists in various medical-related fields in Santa Fe and Albuquerque who will be working with us on this research project. Using the Iluma data, we hope to create a digital reconstruction of the mummy’s head to make physical models for further study.”

Petty became interested in mummies as a hobby. She and her husband visited Egypt last year on a tour led by Dr. Bob Brier. He is a professor of Egyptology at Long Island University and has studied mummies for more than 30 years.

Brier is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on mummies. As Senior Research Fellow at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, New York, Brier has conducted pioneering research in mummification practices and has investigated some of the world’s most famous mummies, including King Tut, Vladimir Lenin, Ramses the Great, Evita Peron, Marquise Tai and the Medici family of Renaissance Italy.

In 1994, Brier used ancient techniques and materials to mummify a human cadaver at the University of Maryland, an experiment chronicled in the 2007 IMAX movie, “Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs.”

Petty obtained the mummified head she brought to Brookover’s clinic from Brier. The head of the child is thought to be that of an Egyptian mummy from the Late Period (1069-332 B.C.), she said.  The mummified head has several large fractures. It is not known whether these fractures led to the death of this individual or whether they are post-mortem, the result of damage occurring after death, she said.

“People are always fascinated by mummies…it’s sort of like looking back over 2,000 years,” Petty said. “For me, it started as a hobby, but I’ve taken it further and have done a lot of research on my own…I think I missed my calling.”

Egyptians removed every organ except the heart during mummification because they believed people thought with their heart. They really didn't know the function of the brain, states Brier on his college website. “The heart was the one thing they kept inside the body because you're going to need that to think when you get to the next world to say the magical spells and resurrect yourself,” he said. “Every other organ, except for the brain, they kept in jars, next to the sarcophagus. They would keep them, so that literally in the next world, you'd get it all together again. You'll be reassembled magically.”

Mummification mainly happened for about 3,000 years between 2,500 B.C. and around 200 A.D. When Egyptian civilization declined, and when the Greeks conquered them, the priesthood wasn't supported and the religion just died out, and mummification died with it, Brier said.

To learn more about Brier’s mummy research, access www.liu.edu. For scanner information, access www.alpinelaserdental.com.