CAT scans of mummies produce amazing pictures

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ST. LOUIS (KPLR) – Some say medicine is a science. Others call it an art.

But this past weekend in St. Louis, art and science intersected.

Under tight security, three mummies, one belonging to the Saint Louis Art Museum and two loaned to museum from the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum were taken to the Washington University School of Medicine for a CAT scan.

It is not the first time the mummies have been scanned; they were x-rayed decades ago.

But scanning them with levels of radiation too strong to be tolerated by a living person, is producing high-resolution 3D images that will be studied for months.

There have already been surprises, like something mysterious found around the head of the mummy named Henut-Wedjebu, an upper class woman who died in the 13th century B.C.

"We immediately start theorizing and coming up with some suggestions but it is going to take some more careful analysis of the data to try to figure out what it is," said Lisa Cakmak, assistant curator of ancient art at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

"Is it beads or pebbles or something in the surface of the wrapping? We just don't know yet," she said.

It was also discovered that the female mummy still had an intact brain.  The two male mummies did not.

"We treated them like fine art objects, but also like human beings, and hospitals are very used to dealing with humans so we had that advantage," said Karen Butler, assistant curator at the Kemper Museum.

The staff at Washington University found the experience fascinating.

"I think the whole team that scanned these mummies thought of it as a sacred or solemn occasion to be able to do this," said Vincent Mellnick, MD, assistant professor of radiology.

The art museum plans to reinstall its mummy exhibit, including the some of the cat scans, in 2016.