CT Scans and the Hairstyles of the Rich and Dead

If you’re anything like me, you’re curious about what the hairstyles of the ancient Egyptians looked like exactly.  And I mean exactly.  You’re not satisfied with vague estimates by paleontologists, and their potentially inaccurate drawings and descriptions make you laugh with contempt! No, the only thing that will do is an exact 3D replica of ancient Egyptian hair.  Luckily for you, and me, there exists such a thing.

After excavating the body of a woman, buried over 2,000 years ago near the pyramid of Hawara in Egypt, archeologists have determined that she sported a unique and extravagant hairstyle at the time of her burial.  Upon examination of a CT scan of the mummy’s skull, researchers noted the distinct curls associated with a hairdo that was all the rage within her culture, thought to be inspired by the Roman Empress Faustina I, from 2 AD.  According to the journal that published the study, RSNA RadioGraphics, “the mummy’s hair is readily appreciable, with longer strands at the middle of the scalp drawn back into twists or plaits that were then wound into a tutulus, or chignon at the vertex (crown) of the head.”

CT scans, according to a separate article from RSNA RadioGraphics, have become increasingly used in paleontology to study mummies in a way that won’t disturb the evidence.  The article, titled “Common and Unexpected Findings in Mummies from Ancient Egypt and South America as Revealed by CT”, put it this way:

Computed tomography (CT) has proved to be a valuable, noninvasive investigative tool for mummy research since as early as 1979 and remains the method of choice for examining mummies. This technique allows for noninvasive insight, whereas dissection destroys characteristic features of the object and often makes a subsequent exposition to the public impossible, as the unwrapping and autopsies performed on mummies in previous centuries clearly demonstrate. Furthermore, CT supplies three-dimensional structural information of the scanned mummified object; with these data, cross sections in any desired direction and three-dimensional models can be produced. With CT, the investigator can perform virtual endoscopy of the mummy, which allows for a journey through the unwrapped body and reveals detailed information about the mummy’s sex, age, constitution, injuries, health, and mummification techniques used.

In addition to recreating the entombed woman’s hair, forensic artist Victoria Lywood was also able to reconstruct her skull, as well. Using data retrieved from the CT scan of the mummy, Lywood could determine the dimensions of the woman’s skull and create a three-dimensional model.  With the model, it was then quite easy to print a replica using a 3D printer.  Then, according to Lywood’s site, “non- hardening plasticine is used to recreate musculature based on the muscle attachments found on the skull…Once the sculpture has been completed, it can be moulded and cast as a hard structure for easy transport or permanent display.”

Also among the figures discovered in the archeological dig, and later reconstructed, were an elderly woman, referred to as “the matron” due to the fact that she was found with grey hair and lived to be between 30 and 50 years old, and a man, who, based on data at the dig, is thought to have died a painful death from a severe dental infection.  All three mummies, along with their uncannily lifelike counterparts, can be seen at the Redpath Museum of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

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Source: Live Science, RSNA RadioGraphics, VictoryLywood.com

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