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The Virtual Mummy

The Virtual Mummy

The Virtual Mummy: Unwrapping a Mummy by Mouse Click

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The computer has entered our everyday life and did not stop before the field of mummy research. Computerization not only helps scientists in non-destructively examining mummies, but it also makes it possible to create virtual mummies, a sample of which can be seen by the visitors of the exhibition "The Secret of the Mummies - Eternal Life at the Nile", and by yourself on screen, with reduced functionality. The object is a 2300-year-old mummy of a female, aged about 30 years.

Making of

Pictures (in preparation)


Naturally, the unwrapping by computer is not any longer the mysterious and thrilling experience a real opening-up of a mummy used to be. But according to modern opinion such a procedure wouldn't be acceptable, anyway, because the dignity of the deceased might be harmed.

The procedure originated from medical research. The initial aim was to provide a highly accurate image of the interior body to improve medical diagnostics, surgical planning, and education of medical students.

For more than 12 years, a group of researchers led by Professor Karl Heinz Höhne, Ph.D., has done research in the field of anatomical 3D-reconstruction of the living human body. Procedures have improved over the years, and thus, it is nowadays possible to produce computer-based body models (virtual bodies), which can be examined in the way an anatomist or surgeon would do it. With the program named VOXEL-MAN, operations can be simulated and planned in advance, and 3D-anatomical atlases can be produced. In these fields, the IMDM did pioneers' work, like for example in 1987, when the first brain of a living human being was reconstructed. One of the current projects is the production of virtual body models based on the Visible Human data set.

The computer, of course, does not mind whether the reconstructed object is a patient, a mummy, or even a prehistoric skull. It was at hand to examine the latter using the same procedure. The results are even better than with patients, since one can employ high radiation dose and because the object holds still very patiently.

The application for mummies was developed in cooperation with Renate Germer, Ph.D. (Dept. of Egyptology, University of Hamburg). Work began in 1989 and was first presented in 1991/92 at the exhibition Mumie + Computer at the Kestner-Museum, Hannover. If you are interested in further reading refer to:

  1. Renate Germer, Karl Heinz Höhne: Mr. X und "Voxel Man". In Rosemarie Drenkhahn, Renate Germer (eds.): Mumie und Computer II, Kestner-Museum, Hannover, 2003, 51-53. (ISBN 3-924029-32-6).
  2. Karl Heinz Höhne: Virtual Mummies: Unwrapped by the click of a mouse. In Renate Germer (ed.): Mummies: Life after death in ancient Egypt, Prestel, München, 1997, 118-120.
  3. Andreas Pommert: Dreidimensionale Darstellung altägyptischer Mumien aus computertomographischen Bildfolgen. In Rosemarie Drenkhahn, Renate Germer (eds.): Mumie und Computer, Kestner-Museum, Hannover, 1991, 19-20. [PDF]

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© Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Impressum
last update: Andreas Pommert, 01.02.2005