After three months of preparation, the date for the procedure has finally arrived. Nerves are on edge as the alarm buzzes at the crack of dawn, but all is packed and ready to go.

Note: An in-depth look at how advances in technology are allowing museum curators, historians and scientists to investigate and collect much more detailed data on ancient relics without disturbing or destroying them.

After three months of preparation, the date for the procedure has finally arrived.

Nerves are on edge as the alarm buzzes at the crack of dawn, but all is packed and ready to go.

Close friends and neighbors fight jitters, anxious to know what results of the CT scan will reveal.

A quick prayer, and it’s time for these longtime roommates to catch a ride to the hospital.

Shawnee police officers escort the pair about a mile down the road.

This is a big deal.

Tutu is a 2400-year-old mummy, and her companion, dubbed the “Roman era” mummy –– because no one among the living knows her name ¬¬–– is thought to be several hundred years younger.

Though the patients are deceased, the prognosis is very good.

“Technology has really changed a lot in the last 25 years –– the last time the mummies were tested,” Dane Pollei, director and chief curator at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, said.

For thousands of years, much of the story about these two ladies’ lives and deaths have remained hidden beneath countless layers of linen.

Older scans can’t offer the level of detail and data that is available now. Tutu’s last X-ray was in 1991 at Shawnee Medical Center Hospital. The Roman era mummy’s last scan was in 1992.

Radiologist Dr. Ryan Skinner said, “Now, we should be able to detect any incisions, possible trauma and gender, among other things” with St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital’s new 64-slice CT scanner.

Dr. Bob Pickering, professor of anthropology at the University of Tulsa, has done this before. Not only will this be his seventh time to study scans of a mummy since 1988, he actually interpreted Tutu’s scans in 1993. He said more scans for mummy research will likely occur now that technology can offer such vast amounts of information.

Pollei agreed. He said over the last 10-15 years, the database for mummy research has really started to pick up. That means more cases in the database to share and compare.

“We happen to have two researchers that scheduled time this summer to talk with us. One is Carter Lupton, curator of ancient history at the Milwaukee Public Museum, and the other is Dr. Jonathan Elias, from the Akhmim Mummy Research Institute,” he said.

“Because our mummies are part of the first database of mummies in North America ¬¬–– which was created by Carter, and he also did the first mummy scans in North America back in the ’70s –– we told them we were working with the hospital and they’ve been a tremendous help to us, as has Dr. Pickering,” Pollei said.

Among the many expert scientists and historians involved in the project is Shawnee’s own Egyptologist Dr. Omar Zuhdi. Right after Tutu’s scan, while she was still on the imaging table, Zuhdi interpreted to the crowd of onlookers what many of the hieroglyphics on her breastplate said.

The resounding message from everyone involved is how so much information can now be obtained without laying a finger on the subjects.

“All this is being done without damaging the mummies,” Megan Clement, MGMoA Board Chair and longtime volunteer, said.

“DNA testing is very invasive,” Pollei said. “The CT scan will keep everything intact. But, since it uses radiation, it can –– in higher doses –– potentially “burn out” a mummy. We want to keep it to a minimum so it won’t hinder any future testing.”

Pollei said, “At some point we also would like to raise money to have facial reconstruction done, so we can get a better idea of what they looked like.”

How it began

“Our president and CEO of St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital, Chuck Skillings, and Dane got to talking a few months ago. And something came up about the mummies and he mentioned that we had this new CT scanner and that we would be happy to rescan them,” Carla Tollett, Public Relations, Communications, marketing consultant at St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital, said.

All in the details

“A heavy storm could’ve stalled the project. Humidity can be a big issue. We have to keep a controlled climate in our transport van,” Pollei said.

During the scanning process Tutu was allowed to keep her mask and breastplate in place. They are made of cartonnage, a mix of linen and plaster –– comparable to papier-mache. MGMoA curators deemed them too delicate to remove for the procedure.

The layer of gold leaf, experts say, indicates that she was wealthy or important.

Tutu is still important.

“Tutu is Oklahoma’s only Egyptian mummy,” Delaynna Trim, MGMoA curator of collections, said.

According to the MGMoA website, The Roman era mummy is thought to have died in the second century A.D. –– during the Roman rule of Egypt.

The museum does not know her name because her sarcophagus doesn’t offer it and –– probably due to her poor status –– she has no breastplate. Her body still holds her brain and internal organs intact, likely because traditional mummifications were losing ground at that time, as Roman burial practices became the norm in Egypt, Pollei said.

 

Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.