Tomography unravels cat mummy

Egyptologists receive clarity through 3-drug technology

Catsmummy from outside and in the x-ray picture University of W rzburg
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Thursday evening at the Center for Operative Medicine of the University of Würzburg. The radiologist Matthias Beissert and his team prepare the exceptional clientele for the investigation. The Egyptologist Martin Stadler, who has delivered the patients - an artfully wrapped cat mummy and an ancient Egyptian wooden and plaster god figure. The scientist wants to have both examined with the computer tomograph.

Does the mummy really contain the complete body of a cat? This can be best clarified by computed tomography, because the mummy remains intact. Stadler wants to have answered this question because in ancient Egyptian animal mummies sometimes only skeletal parts were found. Both for him and for Beissert, this kind of investigation is a first.

3-D image revealing skeleton

After the mummy has gone through the tomograph, it only takes a few minutes for the computer to assemble the data into a three-dimensional image. The device was first put into operation two days earlier at the Institute of X-Ray Diagnostics. It is characterized by a so-called 64-line detector technology and is one of the first computer tomographs of this type that have now been delivered.

Result of the investigation: The mummy does indeed contain the complete skeleton of a cat. As Beissert and his colleagues demonstrate on screen, the skull, spine and other bones are perfectly recognizable. "The limbs were stretched out and applied to the body, " says Beissert. As a result, the cat could be mummified in a very compact form. Smashed bones are not recognizable at first glance - that could have given an indication of the type of death.

Mummy as a disposal method?

As Stadler explains, other cat mummies have often found cervical or cranial injuries. Were the animals killed even though they were sacred to the ancient Egyptians? "The scriptures are silent about this topic. Obviously, the Egyptians did not want to tell their posterity, "says Stadler. But science has a guess: if temple cats had proliferated too much, the priests thinned out the stock - they killed the animals. Now, however, the entire temple area was the property of God and nothing could be removed from it. Therefore, the priests mummified the cats and buried them in the temple. In this way they fulfilled the piety. display

The cat mummy from Würzburg should be around 2600 years old, their exact place of origin in Egypt is unknown. It is still from the collection Martin von Wagner (1777-1858), which this left the University of Würzburg. The Egyptian astronomer Stadler now wants to further analyze computer tomographic images with zoologists and veterinarians. Because he wants to know how old the skeleton is and how the cat died.

No match for Egyptian deity

Then it continues with patient number two, the colorfully painted G tterfigur. It was made in the first century BC, and its origins are unknown. The private collector Alexander Kiseleff donated it to the Wagner Museum. Unlike the mummy, the figure turns out to be less spectacular in the investigation. She is empty.

Stadler had guessed that a papyrus or another figure could be hidden in it. Had the X-ray shown a papyrus, the Egyptologist would have landed in a dilemma. "I would have wanted to read the papyrus and translate it." But to do so, it would have been necessary to open the beautiful figure - and destroy it with it. In the end, Stadler was satisfied. Cat full, God dead - and both patients could be transported undamaged to the Martin-von-Wagner-Museum in the residence in their box.

(University W rzburg, 19.10.2004 - NPO)