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Modern Science Unlocks Mummy’s Secrets

Caroline Cobert, a senior and Biology and Classics Major at the University of Richmond, has always been fascinated with the science and history of Ancient Egypt. Where has this fascination led her? To use the most current scientific methods and technology available to unlock secrets of a 2,700 year old mummy, Ti Ameny Net.

The mummy Ti Ameny Net, has been part of the permanent collection of the University of Richmond since 1876. When Caroline arrived at U of R her freshman year and discovered the University had a mummy, she immediately embarked on a project combining her two majors and resulting in a fascinating exhibition “Ti Ameny Net: An Ancient Mummy, an Egyptian Woman and Modern Science” at the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature. The exhibition will run February 23 to June 29, 2012.

Watch this video to find out more about Caroline’s scientific journey with Ti Ameny Net.

What scientific methods were used?
Caroline worked with her classical studies professor Elizabeth Baughan and biology professor April Hill, to use new scientific technology to complete advanced scans of Ti Ameny Net and to obtain bone samples for DNA mapping, a test that has only recently been performed on a more famous mummy, King Tut. One of Caroline’s first steps was to conduct a variety of control experiments to prove that she could amplify DNA from mummified material. In order to ensure the best chances of securing a viable sample, she mummified two rats to practice her DNA extraction techniques. For this mummification process, she carefully tried to mimic the ancient Egyptian sacred practice.

Cobert then collaborated with Dr. Ann Fulcher, Director of Radiology at VCU Medical Center to retrieve the bone sample for the DNA analysis and to make full body x-rays and CT scans of the mummy. The scans resulted in over 25,000 images of Ti Ameny Net and provided many fascinating insights into the life and death of this ancient Egyptian woman.

What secrets of Ti Ameny Net’s life were revealed?
“There are so many things we can learn from ancient peoples,” Caroline states. “We can look at DNA and CT scan analysis to discover how they lived, what diseases they might have had, what their nutrition was like and how they died. It’s sometimes hard to connect a 3,000-year-old body that we stare at in a museum with an actual living human being, but I think it’s important that we do that. Science is revealing her stories and history to us. We need to listen.”

Come to look, listen, and explore the exhibition “Ti Ameny Net: An Ancient Mummy, an Egyptian Woman and Modern Science” at the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond. You can also hear Caroline Cobert and Dr. Ann Fulcher discuss the project on February 29, 6-7 p.m. The Gallery will be hosting a University Museums Family Day with tours, activities and refreshments on April 1 from 12-3 p.m.

Article by: Debbie Mickle, Science Matters Project Manager