Entering this special exhibit at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago, you will immediately feel transported into the ancient Nile delta marshlands with its lush green flora.
The combination of colors, video footage, bird songs, and ancient artifacts will give you the impression that you have just traveled through time and space.
At the start of the exhibit, you will find one of their most impressive artifacts, an empty shell of an ostrich egg from 3100 B.C. With its perfect shape and marbleized shell, it appears as if it has just been carved out of stone. These ostrich eggs have not only been used in ancient Egypt as containers for liquids and raw material for bead carving, but also symbolize the deep integration of avian life into ancient Egypt's spirituality. All life is at times described as entering and leaving the world through the egg as a vessel, and that birds are messengers that can travel between the realms of men and their gods. Many of the Egyptian gods are portrayed as birds, and even their people have been symbolized by different bird species.
Such information about ancient cultures has been extracted from many sources such as ancient texts and drawings, exploration of burial sites, and with the help of X-ray CT imaging from mummified bird specimens. As shown impressively by Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer, the reconstructed 3D X-ray images can be examined with
Amira software to extract the desired information and sometimes even discover surprises. Rozenn and her team of imaging scientists worked on several specimens, of which we would like to highlight two. Information about the remaining specimens and artifacts exhibited at the Oriental Institute can be found in the catalogue that complements this exhibit.
The most impressive imaging results were obtained from a small falcon, which is unfortunately not on display at the exhibit due to space limitations. It is shown here in figure 1 and highlighted in the exhibits catalogue in chapter 13: "Challenges in CT Scanning of Avian Mummies". The falcon's size and its missing wrappings allowed this specimen to be imaged in a micro-CT system at a resolution of approximately 180μm; more than 40x higher than the clinical imaging system used for larger specimens.
Figure 1: Mummified common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (above) and volume rendering cut at approximate mid-section (below). In the center is the gizzard with a small piece of jaw bone showing the teethof a small rodent.