New technology is offering museums ways of investigating their collections, including ways of doing things that previously would only have been possible by damaging or destroying the object. There have been some surprising discoveries, such as the British Museum and the Manchester Museum recently discovering that some of their animal mummies did not contain complete animals, or sometimes any animal at all!
Manchester Museum learned that around a third of their animal mummies don’t contain any animal material at all but were instead padded out with other organic material such as mud, sticks and reeds. This could be explained by the fact that a large market existed for mummified animals in Ancient Egypt including birds, cats and crocodiles.
These animals were mummified for various reasons; household pets were buried with their owners but many were created as sacred offerings to the gods, who were often portrayed in animals forms such as the goddess Bastet who was shown as a cat. An entire industry existed which is thought to have produced more than 70 million animal mummies so it is not entirely surprising that not all of these mummies actually contain skeletal remains.
So the University of Aberdeen Museums staff wanted to find out what was inside a mummified cat from the collection and bring together an item from the internationally-significant museum collections with the University’s state-of-the-art equipment and world-leading expertise. Kevin Mackenzie from Microscopy and Histology at the institute of Medical Sciences was able to use a high resolution X-Ray Micro-CT system acquired by the University through a NERC Capital Equipment grant which is normally used for research on soils, rocks and life. For this project, we were able to CAT scan the cat!
Laura Perez-Pachon, a researcher in Anatomy created a photorealistic 3D model of its external surface. Laura uses the same type of photorealistic modelling for an exciting project that is currently running at the Anatomy Department. In this project Anatomists have teamed up with game software experts at Abertay University to create a new interactive 3D learning tool funded by the Roland Sutton Academic Trust and supervised by Dr Flora Gröning. Laura also created a 3D model of the cate skeleton from the scans and combined them with the 3D model to create a short video.