In Harvard Medicine, Rajiv Gupta offered tips for unwrapping the secrets of a mummy based on his experience with imaging an ancient Egyptian mummified head. Here, the HMS instructor in radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital shares several more strategies for getting a mummy to spill its guts.
How to Build a Dream Team
It sounds like a variation on a lightbulb joke: how many clinicians does it take to scan a mummy’s head? Paul Chapman ’64, an HMS professor of neurosurgery at Mass General, made our project happen. Then there was me, of course, the radiologist. And we had two oral surgeons: Leonard Kaban '69, the Walter C. Guralnick Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Zachary Peacock, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Mass General. There’s no question that the mummy was a great recruiting tool; curiosity drew us all to the project.
How to Scan a Mummy
When it comes to a special artifact like a mummy head, you have to handle with care. And you have to make sure that the mummy’s curators and guardians—in our case, Pam Hatchfield and Rita Freed from the Museum of Fine Arts—stays happy. They guard the mummy like a baby; any sudden movements would alarm them. To perform a CT scan on a mummy head, carefully place it on a gantry table, take a scout image, and then do the scanning as you normally would with a human head—except that there are a few details that you don’t need to attend to as much. For example, you don’t need to worry about radiation to the patient. You can use thinner slices, too, allowing you to improve the picture quality.
How to Beat the Ick Factor
Mummies often get a bum rap; they’re featured in bad horror movies and associated with curses and creepiness. But having worked with the mummy head, I’ve lost any vestiges of squeamishness. I see a fineness to this work; there’s a science to it, an art to it, and an excellence of craft.
How to Clear Customs with a Suitcase Full of Heads
A friend of mine in Germany, Hans-Peter Meinzer, has developed segmentation algorithms that can tell bone from tissue and distinguish among different layers within tissue. He also has a printer that can make 3D models. So I asked him to print all these models of the mummy’s head for us. Hans brought a suitcase full of heads with him to Boston. When I carried the suitcase through airport security, the screeners said, “My God, there are heads in there!” Fortunately, they don’t look like normal heads—more like plaster of Paris. But these heads have inspired funny conversations at all the security checkpoints.