Radiology

Mum’s the Word: Children’s Asked to Solve Mystery of Child Mummy

As part of a unique partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Radiology Department at Cincinnati Children’s helped shed some light (actually, x-rays in this case) on the life and death of a child mummy that is part of the Mummies of the World Exhibition currently on display at the museum center. Little is known about this child mummy who is believed to have been buried more than 500 years ago in Peru. What makes this mummy interesting is that it is a child and the reason it died is not known. Because of the positioning of the mummy, experts don’t even know whether it was a girl or a boy!

Techniques we use every day at Cincinnati Children’s to take care of children allowed us to examine the mummy without damaging its fragile structure. Last night, we took x-rays and did two CT scans of the mummy to begin to answer some of the questions.

 

Why did we take both x-rays and do a CT scan?
X-rays and CT scans both use x-rays to make an image. The reason to do both is that the x-ray gives us a big-picture look at the mummy and lets us view all of the mummy’s bones at one time. Our plan is to use the x-ray images to try to determine how old the child was when he or she died and to identify any injuries the child may have had.

The CT gives us three-dimensional information, allowing us to learn about the skin, the muscles, and the internal organs like the brain and liver. The three-dimensional information provided by the CT will allow us to create 3D models to better understand the structure of the mummy and might allow us to determine why the child died.

Why did we do two CT scans?
The two CT scans we did were done at different x-ray energy levels. The reason to do this is that different tissues (bone, skin, muscle) look different when different energy x-rays are used to make the image. Being able to better separate the mummy’s tissues should give us a better understanding of its structure and will hopefully help us answer some of the questions about the mummy.

Why didn’t we do an MRI of the mummy?
Mummies have been scanned by MRI before. The problem is, though, that MRI makes an image based on the water in our tissues. Mummies have very dry soft tissues, so MRI images of mummies generally don’t look very good.

We have lots of research projects going on in the Department of Radiology focused on improving the future care of children. It’s not every day that we get to do research that looks so far into the past! You can learn more information about the scan and the mummy on our local news stations:

WLWT Channel 5

WCPO Channel 9

WKRC Channel 12

Fox 19

Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Enquirer #2

Andrew Trout, MD

About the Author: Andrew Trout, MD

Dr. Andrew Trout is an assistant professor of Radiology and interim director of Thoracoabdominal Imaging. His areas of clinical practice include general pediatric radiology, thoracoabdominal imaging and nuclear medicine.

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  1. […] The team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center also took a traditional X-ray of the Peruvian mummy. (Courtesy: Cincinnati Children’s) […]