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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
Secrets of Egyptian mummy unravelled
By Emma Saunders
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The Mummy
Cutting edge computer technology and medical scanning techniques have created a world's first at the British Museum - the secrets of an Egyptian mummy are to be revealed without disturbing its case.

The museum's exhibition, Mummy: The Inside Story - which opens on Thursday - is set to unveil a new chapter in the research of Egyptian civilisation.

Visitors will be able to see inside an unopened mummy case thanks to a revolutionary 3D virtual reality experience.

The exhibition's curator, John Taylor, told BBC News Online the unique project came about when computer specialists Silicon Graphics (SGI) showed an interest in working with the museum.

The company already had some experience of Egyptian history - they produced some of the special effects for blockbuster film The Mummy Returns.

"The medical CT scanning technique used to analyse mummies has been happening for about 15 years but this is the first mummy that has ever been turned into a fully interactive 3D experience," says Mr Taylor.


A mummy called Nesperennub was taken to a hospital and placed into a CT scanner, a machine that takes X-rays from various angles. These X-rays were then placed into a computer to create one single 3D image.

The museum had about 100 mummies to choose from for the project but plumped for Nesperennub, who lived around 800 BC, because he was in such good condition.

The Mummy X-Ray
The X-ray reveals the man had bad teeth
"He has never been touched and is sealed inside a case that cannot be opened. We already knew a few things about him because of hieroglyphics on his case - he was a priest from the temple of Khons," says Mr Taylor.

But the 3D techniques used to "virtually unravel" Nesperennub discovered more fascinating detail about his life.

"We found out lots of personal information - he was generally healthy but had poor teeth and a really bad abscess. Bad teeth were fairly common at that time.

"It seems he died in his 40s. We also discovered what he looked like and have produced a facial reconstruction which visitors will be able to see," says Mr Taylor.

Unfortunately, researchers were not able to establish an exact cause of death but a hole was discovered in Nesperennub's skull which suggested some sort of disease.

So what can visitors actually expect to see?

The highlight is a 20 minute 3D virtual reality show in a specially designed theatre, where you "go inside" the computer-generated mummy and discover objects that were buried under the wrappings.

Nesperennub's actual mummy and coffin will be on display, too.

Big crowds

The exhibition will include information on mummy research, explaining why mummies are not unwrapped and shows examples of the kind of objects left in their cases.

You can also learn how a mummy was preserved 3,000 years ago.

Mr Taylor hopes the exhibition will attract big crowds, as the British Museum's Cleopatra exhibition did three years ago.

"The public is fascinated by mummies, and coupled with this new technology it should intrigue people - this literally brings you face-to-face with this man."

And the curator believes it is only the beginning.

"This is just a selection of images on show, the technology allows us to do a lot more - hopefully this will go further and other mummies can be investigated."

Mummy: The Inside Story runs from 1 July to January 2005 at the British Museum in London.

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"A combination of X-ray and laser scanning produce 1,500 slices of the mummy"

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