With a combination of X-rays and computer imaging, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts uncovered the remains of two ancient mummies on loan to the museum’s ancient art exhibit.
Members of the VMFA met with HCA Virginia healthcare officials at Independence Park Imaging on Friday, where medical professionals conducted a noninvasive scan to create a digital model of the partially preserved interior.
Chris Greene, the facility’s director of imaging, said this experience was certainly out of the norm from his day-to-day responsibilities of MRIs and X-rays.
“This is absolutely out of the norm for us,” Greene Said. “When the VMFA contacted us to help with their research, we definitely jumped at the opportunity.”
Green and his staff helped curators examine two artifacts that were given to the museum by collector Johnathon Metzger.
The VMFA received two small mummy bundles from Metzger’s collection. One of the bundles was shaped like a falcon while the other displayed more human-like effigy, according to Dr. Pete Schertz, the museum’s curator of ancient art.
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“One of the animal mummies is a falcon mummy with a human face. The second mummy is also in the form of a falcon but also has no apparent animal remains,” Schertz said. “This has different types of material on the interior, as far as we can tell.”
The CT scans uncovered that both mummies were in fact made for animals, although they’re unsure if the bones are still intact. Schertz said it was common in ancient Egyptian culture to mummify animals for sentimental and religious reasons.
Although curators are early in their identification process, Schertz said he believes the mummies originated somewhere between the late period of Egypt, between 664 and 332 B.C.
He said he’s hoping the CT scans will aid in recreating a clearer images of the interior of these mummies and possibly even identify some of the materials used to make the mummies.
“This information will be incorporated into our labeling for the installation of the case, which will focus on ‘Lab Archaeology,'” Schertz said.
Lab archaeology is the science that helps us understand ancient artifacts once they have been excavated, Schertz said. The VMFA employed this method in 2011 when it used facial reconstruction on one of its own mummies, Tjeby.
One goal of the display is to show viewers how STEM learning principles extend into their work. Schertz said the museum has made a concerted efforted to highlight the intersection of art and science.
“It’s important that when we look at art, we examine it from multiple lenses,” Schertz said. “With science, we can uncover a lot of history we may not have known beforehand.
Schertz said he hopes to have a pair of 3D models of the artifacts for educational purposes when the mummies are put on display later in July, where they’ll join the VMFA’s extensive collection of ancient art.