Magnetism reveals secrets of the mummy

Anatomists have used magnetic resonance tomography for the first time to look inside a mummy. The mummy, which is from Peru and almost 1,000 years old, was undamaged by the procedure.

Magnetic resonance tomography is often used on living subjects. It generates 3D images by exploiting the magnetic properties of hydrogen nuclei, which are found in large numbers in soft human tissue. Magnetic resonance tomography devices can create a field about 30,000 times stronger than the magnetic field of the earth.

"We were even able to examine the intervertebral disks, cerebral membranes, blood vessels and residue of the embalming fluid in the mummy," said project leader Dr Frank Rühl of the University of Zurich. "The growth cartilage in the upper arms could be easily identified, indicating to us that the dead person was a youth aged around 15 or 16."

The images were only possible thanks to a new technique. The signals obtained from the mummy in the scanner had to be detected very quickly as electromagnetic signals from dry tissue fade away much more quickly than those from wet tissue. Known as UTE (Ultra-short Echo Time), the new technique could be used in the future to examine metabolic processes in the heart and identify abnormal changes to the body's metabolism or the brains of Alzheimer patients.

Image: Unlike Egyptian mummies, Peruvian mummies were buried in a sitting position [Siemens]

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