Skip to main content

Notes on the history of the radiological study of Egyptian mummies: from X-rays to new imaging techniques

Appunti sulla storia dello studio radiografico delle mummie anticoegiziane: dalla radiografia convenzionale alle più recenti tecniche di immagine


A few centuries after the practice of mummification was finally abolished in the seventh century A.D., mummies began to capture the collective imagination, exerting a mysterious fascination that continues to this day. From the beginning, the radiological study of Egyptian mummies permitted the collection not only of medical data but also of anthropological and archaeological evidence. The first radiological study of an Egyptian mummy was performed by Flinders Petrie shortly after the discovery of X-rays in 1895, and since then, radiology has never stopped investigating these special patients. By the end of the 1970s, computed tomography (CT) scanning permitted more in-depth studies to be carried out without requiring the mummies to be removed from their cartonnage. CT images can be used to obtain a three-dimensional reconstruction of the mummy that provides important new information, in part thanks to the virtual endoscopy technique known as “fly through”. Moreover, starting from CT data and using sophisticated graphics software, one can reconstruct an image of the face of the mummified individual at the time of his or her death. The history of imaging, from its origins until now, from the simplest to the most sophisticated technique, allows us to appreciate why these studies have been, and still are, fundamental in the study of Egyptian mummies.


Pochi secoli dopo la definitiva abolizione della pratica della mummificazione, avvenuta nel VII secolo dC, le mummie cominciarono a colpire l’immaginario collettivo esercitando un fascino misterioso che continua fino ai nostri giorni. Lo studio radiografico delle mummie anticoegiziane ha, fin dal suo inizio, permesso di raccogliere informazioni importanti non solo dal punto di vista medico ma anche dal punto di vista antropologico e archeologico. Poco dopo la scoperta dei raggi X del 1895, Flinders Petrie ottenne la prima immagine radiografica di una mummia egizia. Da quel giorno la radiologia iniziò a indagare questi particolari pazienti. Alla fine degli anni’ 70, l’esame TAC ha permesso di approfondire lo studio, consentendo di lasciare la mummia nel suo sarcofago. Dalle immagini TAC si può ottenere la ricostruzione tridimensionale della mummia che permette di fornire altre e importanti informazioni, grazie anche all’utilizzo della tecnica di endoscopia virtuale. Inoltre, sempre partendo dai dati TAC e utilizzando sofisticati programmi di grafica elettronica, si può ottenere la ricostruzione dell’immagine del volto dell’individuo mummificato al momento della sua morte. La storia degli studi di imaging, dall’inizio a oggi, dai più semplici ai più sofisticati, ci permette di capire che essi sono stati e restano fondamentali nello studio delle mummie antico-egiziane.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    David R (1978) Mystery of the mummies: the story of the unwrapping of a 2000 year old mummy by a team of experts. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Fischer LP (2006) Three Copt mummies of Antinoe in Lyon. Hist Sci Med 40:49–60

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Dannenfeldt KM (1985) Egyptian mumia: the sixteenth century experience and debate. Sixteenth Century Journal 16:163–180

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Paré A (1584) Discours d’Ambroise Paré: a savoir, de la mumie, de la liocorne, de venins, de la peste. Paris

  5. 5.

    Pollès R (2001) La momie de Khéops à Hollywood. Les éditions de l’Amateur, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Volpe E, Volpe U (2005) Pharaos’ diseases surveyed with modern diagnostics. Lakartidningen 102:3398

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Tchapla A, Mejanelle P, Bleton J et al (2004) Characterisation of embalming materials of a mummy of the Ptolemaic era. Comparison with balms from mummies of different eras. J Sep Sci 27:217–234

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Erodoto Storie, Libro II, 85–90 Garzanti, Milano

  9. 9.

    Brier B (1994) Egyptian mummies: Unravelling the secrets of an ancient art. William Morrow, New York

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Aufderheide AC (2003) The scientific study of mummies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Bahn PG (1992) The making of a mummy. Nature 356:109

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Isherwood I, Hart CW (1992) The radiological investigation. In: David AR, Tapp E (eds) The mummy’s tale. Michael O’Mara Books, London, pp 100–111

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Konig W (1896) 14 Photographien mit Rontgen-Strahlen, aufgenommen im Physikalischen Verein. JA Barth, Frankfurt A.M. Leipzig

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Flinders Petrie WM (1898) Deshasheh (Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Fund, XV), London

  15. 15.

    Filer J (1995) Disease. British Museum Press, London

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Smith GE (1912) The Royal Mummies. Catalogue général des antiquitées égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Nos. 61051-61100. Service des antiquités de l’Egypte, Cairo

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Bertolotti M (1913) Une vertèbre lombaire surnuméraire complète chez une momie égyptienne de la XI Dinastie. Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpétrière Tome XXVI, 63–65

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Moodie RL (1932) Roentgenologic studies of Egyptian and Peruvian mummies. American Anthropologist, New Series 34:710–711

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Derry DE (1934) All x-ray examination of the mummy of king Amenophis I. Ann Serv Antiq Egypte 34:47–48

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Gardner JC, Garvin G, Nelson AJ et al (2004) Paleoradiology in mummy studies: the Sulman mummy project. Can Assoc Radiol J 55:228–234

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Whitehouse WM (1980) Radiological findings in the royal mummies. In: Harris JE, Wente EF (eds) An X-ray atlas of the royal mummies. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 286–327

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Gray PH (1967) Radiography of ancient Egyptian mummies. Med Radiogr Photogr 43:34–44

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Schranz D (1959) Age determination from the internal structure of the humerus. Am J Phys Anthropol 17:273–278

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Conlogue G, Nelson AJ (1999) The use of the Polaroid photographic imaging system to produce radiographic images at a field archaeological site in Peru. Radiol Technol 70:121–128

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Harris JE, Hussein F (1968) The identification of the Eighteenth Dynasty royal mummies; a biological perspective. Int J Osteoarchaeology 1:235–239

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Dawson WR, Gray PHK (1968) Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities in the British Museum: Mummies and Human Remains. The British Museum, London

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Harris JE, Weeks K (1973) X-raying the pharaohs. Macdonald, London

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Cockburn A, Cockburn E (1980) Mummies, disease and ancient cultures. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Braunstein EM, White SJ, Russel W et al (1988) Paleoradiologic evaluation of the Egyptian royal mummies. Skeletal Radiol 17:348–352

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Raven MJ, Taconis WK (2005) Egyptian Mummies: Radiological Atlas of the Collections of the National Museum of Antiquities. Papers on Archaeology of the Leiden Museum of Antiquities, Leiden

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Guidotti MC (2001) Le mummie del museo egizio di Firenze. Giunti, Firenze

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    David AR (1979) The Manchester Museum Mummy Project. Manchester Museum, Manchester

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    David AR, Tapp E (1984) Evidence Embalmed: Modern Medicine and the Mummies of Ancient Egypt. Manchester University Press, Manchester

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Notman DNH, Tashijian J, Aufderheide AC et al (1986) Modern imaging and endoscopic biopsy techniques in Egyptian mummies. AJR Am J Roentgenol 146:93–96

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Eremin K, Wright A, Macleod I (1998) The NMS Mummy Project. The Glyph 3:8–10

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Harwood-Nash CD (1979) Computed tomography of ancient Egyptian mummies. J Comput Assist Tomogr 3:768–773

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Pahl WM (1980) Computed tomography: a new radiodiagnostical technique applied to medicoarcheological investigation of Egyptian mummies. Antrop Contemp 3:37–44

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Pahl WM (1981) La tomographie par ordinateur appliquée aux momies Egyptiennes: apercu de l’etat actual de recherches. Bull Mem Soc Antrop Paris 8:343–356

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Castor WR, Baker CG (1982) CT of an Egyptian mummy. G.E.C.T. Clinical Symposium 5:10

    Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Vahey T, Brown D (1984) Comely Wenuhotep: computer tomography of an Egyptian mummy. J Comput Assist Tomogr 8:992–997

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Marx M, D’Auria S (1986) CT examination of eleven Egyptian mummies. RadioGraphics 6:321–330

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Kieser J, Dennison J, Anson D et al (2004) Spiral computed tomographic study of a pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian mummy. Anthropological Science 112:91–96

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Uda M, Demortier G, Nakai I (2005) X-rays for Archaeology. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Ruhli FJ, Boni T (1999) Radiological aspects and interpretation of postmortem artefacts in ancient Egyptian mummies from Swiss Collections. Int J Osteoarchaeology 10:153–157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Cesarani F, Martina MC, Ferraris A et al (2003) Whole-body threedimensional multidetector CT of 13 Egyptian mummies. AJR Am J Roentgenol 180:597–606

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Forbes D, Ikram S, Kamrin J (2007) Tutankhamen’s missing ribs. KMT 18:51–56

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Seipel S, Lindkvist M (2002) Methods and application of interactive 3D computer graphics in anthropology. Technical Report 2002-002; ISSN 1404-3203. Department of Information Technology. Uppsala Universitet, Uppsala

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Lewin PK (1988) First stereoscopic images from CT reconstructions of mummies. AJR Am J Roentgenol 151:1249

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Marx M, D’Auria S (1988) Threedimensional CT reconstructions of an ancient human Egyptian mummy. AJR Am J Roentgenol 150:147–149

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Pickering RB, Conces DJ, Braunstein EM et al (1990) Three-dimensional computed tomography of the mummy Wenuhotep. Am J Phys Anthropol 83:49–55

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Baldock C, Hughes SW, Whittaker DK et al (1994) 3-D reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian Mummy using X-ray computer tomography. J R Soc 87:806–808

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Melcher AH, Holowka S, Pharoah M et al (1997) Non-invasive computed tomography and three-dimensional reconstruction of the dentition of a 2,800-year-old Egyptian mummy exhibiting extensive dental disease. Am J Phys Anthropol 103:329–340

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Macleod RI, Wright AR, Mcdonald MC et al (2000) Mummy 1911-210-1. J R Coll Surg Edinb 45:85–92

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Hoffman H, Torres WE, Ernst RD (2002) Paleoradiology: Advanced CT in the Evaluation of Nine Egyptian Mummies. Radiographics 22:377–385

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Kieser J, Dennison J, Anson D et al (2004) Spiral computed tomographic study of a pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian mummy. Anthropological Science 112:91–96

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Pomar P, Moreno B, Arrué J (2006) 3D volumetric visualization in anatomy, biology and anthropology. Modélisation Anatomique et Antropologique Tridimensionelle. Toulouse III University. Science et Vie 1070:88–92

    Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Hjalgrim H, Lynnerup NL, Liversage M et al (1995) Stereolithography: potential applications in anthropological studies. Am J Phys Antropol 97:329–333

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Bou C, Pomar P, Pessey JJ et al (1998) Three-dimensional facial reconstruction of computerized tomography images by computer-aided design: example of an anthropologic study. Rev Laryngol Otol Rhinol 119:335–350

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Attardi G, Betrò M, Forte M et al (1999) 3D facial reconstruction and visualization of ancient Egyptian mummies using spiral CT data. Sketches and Applications, ACM SIGGRAPH, Los Angeles

    Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Hoffman H, Hudgins PA (2002) Head and skull base features of nine Egyptian mummies: evaluation with highresolution CT and reformation techniques. AJR Am J Roentgenol 178:1367–1376

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Manley B, Emerin K, Shortland A et al (2002) The facial reconstruction of an Ancient Egyptian Queen. J Audiov Media Med 25:155–159

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Cesarani F, Martina MC, Grilletto R et al (2004) Facial reconstruction of a wrapped Egyptian mummy using MDCT. AJR Am J Roentgenol 183:755–758

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Hughes S, Wright R, Barry M (2005) Virtual reconstruction and morphological analysis of the cranium of an ancient Egyptian mummy. Australs Phys Eng Sci Med 28:122–127

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Posh JC, Monge J (1999) Magnetic resonance evaluation of mummiefied remains with computed tomography correlation. 26th Annual Meeting of the Paleopathology Association, Columbus

  65. 65.

    Isidro A, Malgosa A, Esteban J et al (2006) Egyptian mummy endoscopic examination. Evaluation of the results. Med Clin 127:622–625

    Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Hagedorn HG, Zink A, Szeimies U et al (2004) Macroscopic and endoscopic examinations of the head and neck region in ancient Egyptian mummies. HNO 52:413–422

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to P. Cosmacini.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cosmacini, P., Piacentini, P. Notes on the history of the radiological study of Egyptian mummies: from X-rays to new imaging techniques. Radiol med 113, 615–626 (2008).

Download citation


  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Mummies
  • Egypt

Parole chiave

  • Diagnostica per immagini
  • Mummie
  • Egitto