Mummy gets high-tech treatment at BMC

Thursday February 25, 2010 PITTSFIELD -- Though he may be a mummy, the Egyptian priest Pahat can still speak volumes about his ancient civilization.

On Wednesday morning, the nearly 2,300-year-old Berkshire Museum resident and the lower half of his sarcophagus were wrapped to brave the winter weather to undergo a CT scan at Berkshire Medical Center.

The procedure uses advanced X-ray technology as a tool in the scientific study of mummies.

Stuart Chase, executive director of the museum, was among a crowd of nearly 20 other museum, medical and press personnel who squeezed into BMC's CT scanning suite to watch the process firsthand.

"It's a rare situation to have a mummy and to be a museum that's so close to a hospital with the technology to be able to do this," said Chase. "It's an exciting new way to unlock the mysteries of the past."

Pahat himself was first scanned in 1984. On June 4, 2007, the mummy was scanned again at BMC.

The 2007 scan was the result of the mummy being chosen as a participant in the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium (AMSC) research project, which is based in Harrisburg, Pa.

Led by Dr. Jonathan Elias, an Egyptologist and physical anthropologist, the AMSC's mission is to use mummies to advance knowledge on the ancient city of Akhmim (formerly Ipu), Egypt, where Pahat was found.

Located about 300 miles south of Cairo, this site contains a vast necropolis from which dozens of mummies were taken and sold for as little as $5 but shipped to buyers for as much as $250 during the 1880s. Pahat was procured by Zenas Crane who founded the Berkshire Museum in 1903.

Collections Manager Leanne Hayden was "very nervous" about the mummy returning to BMC on Wednesday, for fear of his ancient body being exposed to outside elements and another dose of radiation from the CT scan.

But the hospital upgraded to a new scanning machine since 2007. Scans can now be done at a faster rate using a lower dose of radiation and can produce analysis-ready images at a higher resolution. So Hayden agreed to the mummy's third scan.

"We're always looking to expand living research at the museum. We're always finding new things about our own collection. This will give us more information through the context of Pahat's procedure," she said.

Data from the 2007 scan was used to create a 3-D bust of Pahat, who died around the age of 50 as a Sem priest to the temple cult of Min, the Egyptian god of male virility and harvest. Elias called priests like Pahat the "worker bees" of a temple, often aiding in funerary processes.

The data collected from Wednesday's CT scan will be incorporated with what is known as "fly-through" animation technology to create a 3-D journey through the mummy's body cavity. The new images will be unveiled this summer at the premiere of the museum's exhibit "Wrapped! The Search for the Essential Mummy."

Pahat's latest scan comes amidst the international buzz about another ancient mummy, King "Tut" Tutankhamen. Last week, new research emerged indicating that the famous boy pharaoh may have died from complications with malaria.

But Elias feels that the preoccupation with Tut complicates the study and public knowledge of ancient Egypt as a whole, and the lives of more ordinary people like Pahat.

"The world needs to move beyond Tut," said Elias. "We have to care about other Egyptians. Otherwise, science doesn't progress."


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