The Virtual Mummy: Unwrapping a Mummy by Mouse Click (1997)

[The Virtual Mummy]

The computer has entered our everyday life and did not stop before the field of mummy research. Computerization not only helps scientists in non-destructively examining mummies, but it also makes it possible to create virtual mummies, a sample of which can be seen by the visitors of the exhibition The Secret of the Mummies - Eternal Life at the Nile, and by yourself on screen, with reduced functionality. The object is a 2300-year-old mummy of a female, aged about 30 years.

Naturally, the unwrapping by computer is not any longer the mysterious and thrilling experience a real opening-up of a mummy used to be. But according to modern opinion, such a procedure wouldn't be acceptable anyway, because the dignity of the deceased might be harmed.

The procedure originated from medical research. The initial aim was to provide a highly accurate image of the interior body to improve medical diagnostics, surgical planning, and education of medical students.

For more than 12 years, a group of researchers led by Professor Karl Heinz Höhne, PhD, at the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science in Medicine (IMDM) has done research in the field of anatomical 3D-reconstruction of the living human body. Procedures have improved over the years, and thus, it is nowadays possible to produce computer-based body models (virtual bodies), which can be examined in the way an anatomist or surgeon would do it. With the program named VOXEL-MAN, operations can be simulated and planned in advance, and 3D-anatomical atlases can be produced. In these fields, Höhne's group did pioneering work, like for example in 1987, when the first brain of a living human being was reconstructed. Today, work concentrates on the new field of computer-based surgery simulators.

[mummy in CT scanner]
How the procedure works.
[mummy's head]
You can examine the reconstruction of the mummy's head here.
[video clips] [video clips] [video clips] [video clips]
You can explore QuickTime VR scenes to unwrap the mummy's head on screen.

The computer, of course, does not mind whether the reconstructed object is a patient or a mummy. It was at hand to examine the latter using the same procedure. The results are even better than with patients, since one can employ high radiation dose and because the object holds still very patiently.

The application for mummies was developed in cooperation with Renate Germer, PhD, from the Dept. of Egyptology, University of Hamburg. Work began in 1989 and was first presented in 1991/92 at the exhibition Mumie + Computer at the Kestner Museum, Hannover. If you are interested in further reading refer to:

  1. Renate Germer, Karl Heinz Höhne: Mr. X und Voxel-Man. In Rosemarie Drenkhahn, Renate Germer (eds.): Mumie und Computer II, Kestner-Museum, Hannover, 2003, 51-53 (ISBN 978-3-924029-32-6).
  2. Cool images: Mummy unwrapped. Science 285, 5427 (1999), 491.
  3. Karl Heinz Höhne: Virtual Mummies: Unwrapped by the click of a mouse. In Renate Germer (ed.): Mummies: Life after Death in Ancient Egypt, Prestel, Munich, 1997, 118-120 (ISBN 978-3-7913-1804-2).
  4. Andreas Pommert: Dreidimensionale Darstellung altägyptischer Mumien aus computertomographischen Bildfolgen. In Rosemarie Drenkhahn, Renate Germer (eds.): Mumie und Computer—Ein multidisziplinäres Forschungsprojekt in Hannover, Kestner-Museum, Hannover, 1991, 19-20 (ISBN 978-3-924029-17-3). [PDF Icon]