Friday, January 17, 2014

Preserving the MGH’s oldest patient

TOUCHING HISTORY: Gupta, second from right, looks on as visitors get up-close and personal to Padihershef at the museum.

Padihershef may be a mummy, but his story is no longer under wraps. The results of a year-long conservation project, under the direction of the MGH Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation, were shared at the museum’s first evening lecture of 2014, “Padihershef: A Mummy Revealed.” The lecture – featuring experts on Egyptology, neuroradiology, conservation and forensic anthropology – was held Jan. 14 in the Ether Dome where the mummy and his coffin reside in a special case.

“What does it take to conserve a 2,600-year-old mummy?” asked John B. Herman, MD, associate chief and chair of medical psychiatry, and chair of the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum advisory committee, who welcomed guests.

The evening began with MGH neurosurgeon Paul Chapman, MD, who explored the mummy’s origins and arrival at the MGH in 1823. Mimi Leveque, a conservator at the Peabody Essex Museum, hired to help restore the mummy last year, described the methodical measures taken to clean and repair Padihershef – documenting his condition with photographs and sketches, cleaning his face with saliva and swabs, replacing missing linen bands and realigning the wrappings.

We were always aware of – and sensitive to – the ethical considerations of the body we were treating,” said Leveque. “The mummy is not just a mummy but an individual.”

Rajiv Gupta, MD, PhD, of MGH Imaging, explained why the mummy underwent full body X-ray and CT scanning – it was an opportunity to examine the life of an ancient Egyptian stonemason. “The scans provided insight into the condition of his bones and soft tissue.” More than 20,000 scans were assembled into 3-D renderings of the body.

The final speaker of the night, forensic pathologist Jonathan Elias, PhD, of Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, described how a facial reconstruction is created. Using the scans, 3-D facial recognition software and a thorough knowledge of mummy forensics, Elias’ group developed a sculpted representation of what Padihershef may have looked like 2,600 years ago.

Following the lecture, guests were invited to the unveiling of a new interactive exhibit at the museum featuring a virtual autopsy table – temporarily on loan from the Department of Imaging – that allows visitors to manipulate images of Padihershef with the touch of a finger.

For more information about the Padihershef restoration project and exhibit, email 

Read more articles from the 01/17/14 Hotline issue.



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