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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2010 Jul;142(3):497-500. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21292.

Technical note: Terahertz imaging of ancient mummies and bone.

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Swiss Mummy Project, Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, Zurich, Switzerland.


Ancient mummified soft-tissues are a unique source to study the evolution of disease. Diagnostic imaging of such historic tissues is of foremost interest in paleoanthropology or paleopathology, with conventional x-ray and computed tomography (CT) being the gold-standard. Longer wavelength radiation in the far-infrared or Terahertz region allows diagnostic close-to-surface tissue differentiation of bone morphology while being harmless to human cells. The aim of this study is to show the feasibility and the morpho-diagnostic impact of THz imaging of historic remains. Images of an artificially embalmed ancient Egyptian human mummy hand, an artificially embalmed ancient Egyptian mummified fish and a macerated human lumbar vertebra were obtained by THz-pulse imaging and compared with conventional X-ray and CT images. Although conventional x-ray imaging provides higher spatial resolution, we found that THz-imaging is well-suited for the investigation of ancient mummified soft tissue and embalming-related substances / wrappings. In particular, bone and cartilaginous structures can be well differentiated from surrounding soft-tissues and bandage-wrappings by THz imaging. Furthermore, THz-pulse imaging also measures the time-delay of the pulsed signal when passing through the sample, which provides supplementary information on the optical density of the sample that is not obtained by X-ray and CT. Terahertz radiation provides a completely non-invasive diagnostic imaging modality for historic dry specimens. We anticipate this modality also to be used for detection of hidden objects in historic samples such as funerary amulets still in situ in wrapped mummies, as well as potentially for the identification of spectral signatures from chemical substances, e.g., in embalming essences.

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