Going high-tech to solve museum’s longtime puzzle of a child mummy - The Buffalo News

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Going high-tech to solve museum’s longtime puzzle of a child mummy

It’s a boy. Or a girl.

It’s about 600 to 1,000 years old, perhaps.

And it comes with a tantalizing bit of enigma – a neatly shaped rectangular object, some 2 centimeters long, located over the back of its left shoulder.

“I think it’s possible it’s part of an amulet, or necklace,” said Dr. Heather Gill-Frerking, a scientist who has come to Buffalo with a new mummy exhibit.

This is Buffalo’s mysterious child mummy.

The small body from Peru has long been a puzzle.

But a few questions about the long-ago child were finally answered – at least in part – on Wednesday, when the mummified remains underwent a high-tech 3D CT scan in Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

The scan comes in advance of a major exhibit, “Mummies of the World,” which will arrive at the Buffalo Museum of Science on April 12.

“It came with such limited provenance,” Mark Mortenson, president of the science museum, said about the child mummy that has been in its collection for decades.

Because of that lack of detail, Mortenson said of the CT scan, “this event is so important.”

Among the goals of the CT scan were to reveal any details about the body of the unidentified child, scientists and museum staff said.

The mummified child was acquired by the science museum from a Buffalo woman named Mrs. Hatch in the early 1900s, according to museum staff.

Until now, they said, little has been known about the figure – other than its origins in Peru.

Wednesday, the remains – clearly a small body, with legs extended and hands close to its thighs – were laid on a gurney and transported to a room at Roswell Park, where the CT scan procedure was performed.

“It went smoothly,” said Dr. Peter Loud, director of body imaging at the institute.

After the 3-D scans inside Roswell Park, there were a few things that Gill-Frerking, an expert on mummies who travels as director of science and education with the “Mummies of the World” exhibit, could say.

One is that the child appears to have been less than 2 years old at the time of death.

Another is that the body seems quite typical of South American mummies – and, at that, is in rather good condition, including at least eight teeth, Gill-Frerking said.

“This child is very typical of South American children,” Gill-Frerking said. “And that’s important.”

“Because we have so few, it’s important to look,” she said.

The mummy has hair left – short, dark brown in color, and “very fine” in texture, according to Gill-Frerking.

But there was just as much that experts couldn’t say for sure – at least not until the images are studied in more detail.

There is still no conclusion as to whether the mummy was a boy or a girl, Gill-Frerking said.

There is no assessment of how he or she died.

And, there was no way to tell – until more study is done – what that puzzling rectangular object was that was noticed on the back of the mummy’s left shoulder.

“We’ve found cases of shells or pottery that show up in that same spot,” said Gill-Frerking, who has studied about 100 mummies and has done CT scans on a good portion of those.

More detailed and conclusive results from the scanned images will likely take a few weeks of study, Gill-Frerking said.

At Roswell Park, staff members noted that the mummy-scanning was a first for the institute.

The traveling “Mummies of the World” exhibit includes about 45 mummies, according to representatives of the show’s Florida-based producer.

The exhibit includes remains and other items from Egypt, Europe, South America and other parts of the world.

“Mummies of the World” is produced by American Exhibitions, and its visit to Buffalo is part of a three-year tour.

Mortenson, at the science museum, said that one of the goals of exhibiting “Mummies of the World” is to open up the public’s ideas about what a mummy is.

“Mummies aren’t just from Egypt,” Mortenson said. “There have been mummified remains through many cultures – and throughout time.”

Plus, Mortenson said, people are just always fascinated by mummies.

“It’s been sensationalized in pop culture,” he said. “But it’s also very much a mystery.”

For more on the local exhibit, see the Buffalo Science Museum’s website, www.sciencebuff.org. email: cvogel@buffnews.com

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