Paul S. Russell, MD Museum

Some answers as to how the MGH's Egyptian mummy Padihershef lived and died are now being explored through a conservation project - which included a full body X-ray and CT scan.

Padihershef unwrapped

08/Mar/2013

 

ANCIENT SECRETS: Materials Management team members Eman Hyppolite and Louis Gerard, center, observe as conservators Leveque, left, and Rebecca Barber examine Padihershef in the Ether Dome after he was removed from his display case.

For almost two centuries, Egyptian mummy Padihershef has held silent vigil in the Ether Dome, bearing witness to surgeries and other milestones that are part of the MGH’s rich and vital history. He was a gift from the city of Boston in 1823 as a medical oddity, a rare and unusual artifact that many in this country had yet to see. While he has been subject to examinations during his nearly 200 years at the MGH, “Padi” had never received a full-scale medical investigation into what his life and health had been like some 2,500 years ago, when he was a 40-year-old stonecutter from the Necropolis in Thebes.

Some answers as to how Padi lived and died are now being explored through a conservation project supported in part by the hospital and through philanthropic donations. On March 4, under the watchful eyes of a team that included Rajiv Gupta, MD, PhD, of MGH Imaging; conservator Mimi Leveque; MGH neurosurgeon Paul Chapman, MD; and members of Materials Management, Buildings and Grounds, and Police and Security, Padi was removed from his case. He was transported on a patient stretcher to the Imaging suites on Ellison and Blake 2 where he underwent full body X-ray and CT scanning.

 

UNVEILED: Padihershef enters the CT scanner, above.

Gupta explained why the mummy needed to undergo both types of scans. “Plain films, or X-rays, give us some insight into the condition Padi’s bones are in. They can be directly compared with earlier studies, done in 1931 and 1976, which reported interrupted growth lines indicative of a severe childhood illness that resulted in stunted body growth,” says Gupta. “The CT scans give us more detailed information about bones as well as the soft tissues in the body.”

The 3-D image of the mummy’s head, neck and torso.

The many fine layers of scans are then assembled into 3-D representations of the mummy’s body, both inside and out, allowing his ancient linen wrappings to remain undisturbed.

One immediate and unexpected finding from the images was the appearance of a broom handle embedded at the base of Padi’s head running through his torso. Although Leveque said she thought it could be a stabilizer for his head, there are no records to indicate when the repair was done and by whom.

The conservation project, under the direction of the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of History and Innovation, is scheduled to last several months, during which time the images will be assembled, read and interpreted for study. In addition, they will be sent to a forensic pathologist who, using software developed to help identify skeletal remains, will assemble the more than 20,000 sliced scans into a 3-D representation of what Padihershef looked like during his lifetime. Plans also are underway to conserve and clean Padi for preservation purposes. That process, which will take place over a period of three days in late spring, will be open to the public for observation. 

 

CLOSE EXAMINATION: Leveque and Padihershef


Read more articles from the 03/08/13 Hotline issue.