Radiography in Archaeology

It was scarcely more than a century ago, in 1895, that the German scientist Wilhelm Röntgen first discovered the existence of x-rays and their ability to penentrate through materials with some ease. It was but two short steps from that discovery to show that these invisible rays would darken the chemicals then being studied in the making of camera film, and that x-rays offered a unique non-invasive means of looking at the internal structure of all kinds of objects.

Röntgen thought up many ways to satisfy the immediate popular demand for demonstration of what this new technology could do, but none proved more effective than his study of a Ptolemaic mummy bundle of a sacrificed cat that showed the animal's bone structure in fine detail. Since that time, radiography has become one of the most widely used techniques in archaeology, both for determination of an artifact's method of construction, and as an aid to creating a proper conservation strategy for sculpture in many media. X-rays also have become a vital investigative tool in the study of the architecture of ancient human skeletons, and the occasional abnormalities of growth that such bones display in circumstances of nutritional stress, or when damaged by diseases such as syphilis, cancer, and rickets.

 
 

May 18, 1980
Dr. Wallace Miller of the Radiology Dept. at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania studying chest x-rays of the mummy of the Egyptian priest, Hapi-Men (circa 3rd century BCE).

 

What follows is a summary of several projects undertaken in recent years as a collaboration between the Museum's Conservation Section and the Radiology Department of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Mummy of Hapi-Men: A Story of Ritual and Robbery

Infant Sacrifice at Pachacamac, Peru: Dignity in Death

The Mummies of Pachacamac: An Exceptional Legacy from Ulhe's 1896 Excavations

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