MONTREAL—McGill University's Redpath Museum will soon be showing off some new additions to its Egyptology collection, after decades new CT scans are putting a new face on an old display of three mummies.
For centuries our notion of ancient Egyptians has been based on two dimensional images—concepts literally carved in stone. But new technology is showing them for who they really are.
“We can see their faces under the wrappings just shriveled and desiccated,” said Dr. Andre Wade of the University of Western Ontario.
“It looks like a very, very old man, you know right on their death bed sort of thing. But then to see them in sort of the pink of life and this is, you know, a younger man? This is a really fantastic thing to be able to see.”
A rebirth of sorts thanks to a trip the mummies took almost two years ago to the Montreal Neurological Institute.
The mummies were scanned for a project run by the University of Western Ontario. The scans of the skulls were then turned into 3d models and forensic artist Victoria Lywood reconstructed the faces from the past using her artistic skills and following scientific rules.
“There's no creative expression involved. Every detail, every feature of the face is all done according to studies,” said Lywood.
The scans revealed details that previously people could only guess at.
“The information that he was able to take off of those scans told us that this woman had white hair,” said Lywood.
Other scans showed curly hair and braided hair on a younger woman—details like that helped researchers update their information about the mummies.
“It turns out she's actually from a bit later on. She is not from the era when the Greeks were ruling Egypt but from when the romans were ruling Egypt,” said Wade.
As a result, the display at the Redpath will need to be changed.
“I don't know whether to say fortunately or unfortunately it is all wrong. Fortunately in the sense that now we know better and now we have the good stuff,” said Barbara Lawson, the Redpath Museum’s curator of ethnology.
As a curator, Lawson worked closely with the mummies for years. Now even she's seeing them in a new light.
“I never really thought of the exact facial appearance that these mummies would have so seeing them for the first time I was quite surprised,” she said.
Radio-carbon dating of the bandages shows the mummies are about 1,000 years younger than previously thought. The scans have helped narrow down the age at which the three people died—in their late teens or early twenties.
The experts are very impressed with the reconstructions.
“I think it wouldn't be a stretch to say that, you know, if their neighbor walked in here now that they'd probably recognize them,” said Wade. “To be able to come face to face with these ancient people is a real treat.”
The new faces will go on display at the Redpath in about a month.