It's a girl

Digital unwrapping reveals a little mummy's secrets

Silicon Graphics and Volume Graphics


Digital unwrapping reveals a little mummy’s secrets

Frame by frame, layer by layer, the images of a mummified Egyptian child who died two millennia ago spring to life on a computer screen, revealing every stunning detail of the skeletal remains, down to the last vertebra.

The three-dimensional images, the result of high-resolution CT scans done at Stanford’s AxiomLab, reveal a linen-draped girl of about 4 to 5 years old with short, shiny black curls, an angular face, a string of beads on her neck and sharp features reminiscent of her famous counterpart, King Tut.

“The scans are spectacular,” marvels Rebecca Fahrig, PhD, associate professor of radiology. “The fact that we were able to get such high-resolution images is pretty cool. Some of the detail in the teeth is absolutely phenomenal. You wouldn’t get that with a normal scanner.”

The girl has been dubbed Sherit, or “little one,” and is a resident of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose. In May, museum officials gingerly transported her remains to a radiology research lab in the basement of Stanford Hospital, where Fahrig and her colleagues did some 60,000 scans of the mummy using a high-end AXIOM Artis Siemens scanner. Stanford was one of the first medical centers in the world to get the scanner, which produces images as thin as 200 microns, providing more detail than the 750-micron slices used to create the popular, 3-D images of Tut. His remains were scanned in Egypt in January and a reconstructed bust of the king is now on tour in the United States.

Silicon Graphics and Volume Graphics

The data for Sherit were processed on high-powered computers at Silicon Graphics Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., using visualization software provided by Volume Graphics of Germany.

Stanford experts were able to estimate the child’s age based on images of her teeth and the bone structure of her wrist.

Stephen Schendel, MD, professor of surgery and part-time sculptor, also produced a clay model of the head of the girl, who had a long chin and an unusual receding lower jaw.

The researchers still don’t know the cause of the girl’s death. Her skeleton was healthy and shows no signs of trauma, says Stanford orthopedic surgeon Amy Ladd, MD. Experts surmise that she died suddenly of a parasitic disease, such as dysentery, that was common in ancient Egypt.

Sherit’s story will unfold for years, as experts continue to study the trove of data unearthed by the new technology.


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