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Researchers use CT scans to digitally peek at ancient Egyptian mummies
All the fun of opening up a mummy, without the fear of unleashing a plague.
- Three long dead Egyptians recently had their CT images taken.
- The scans revealed what was, and was not, done during their mummification.
- The finds shed more light on how the Egyptians were inspired by the Greeks and Romans.
Beyond being great villains in horror films, mummies are excellent tools to learn about the past with. With these well-preserved corpses, you can learn about what people were like in life by reviewing what they left behind. If you get enough of them, you can start to make generalizations about how entire populations lived.
The Egyptians liked to bury mummies with possessions that they might take with them into the afterlife. Because of this, their tombs often reveal the lives they lived, the art styles of the time, what objects they found important enough to take with them into the beyond, and other details that might otherwise be lost to history.
One of the difficulties of using mummies to learn about these things is that they can be challenging to wrap back up after pulling back the bandages. Luckily for us, modern technology has made doing that obsolete. Recently, a team of researchers created CT scan images of three mummies and published their findings.
They look pretty good for being 2000.
The decorated images showing who the mummies used to be.
Credit: Zesch et al., PLOS One, 2020
The three mummies scanned are the only known examples of "stucco-shrouded portrait mummies." As opposed to being buried in a coffin, these three were placed on wooden boards then wrapped in a textile and a shroud. They were then decorated with plaster, gold, and a whole-body portrait revealing what they looked like, how they styled their hair, and what they wore in life. All three were once buried in Saqqara, the great Necropolis just south of Giza.
They date back to the Late Roman Period in Egypt, and all three of them have had very exciting afterlives filled with stories about their discoveries and shifting ownership. Now, thanks to modern technology, we can learn about their lives.
The CT scan shows that the man was between 25 and 30 years of age when he died and that he had several cavities and unerupted teeth. He was only 164 cm tall (around 5'4"). Several of his bones are broken, though this is believed to be the result of careless handling by whoever discovered the remains.
Most curiously, there is no evidence that his brain was removed during the mummification process, as was standard in other cases. It also seems that few embalming chemicals were used to preserve him. This suggests that he was just wrapped, painted, and buried and that dehydration is what kept his corpse so well preserved.
The woman was between 30 and 40 years old and stood at 151 cm (4'9"). She shows signs of arthritis in her knees. Like many other Egyptians, she was buried in fine jewelry. Several necklaces appeared on the scan, suggesting she was well off. For reasons unknown, nails were also found in her abdomen. Like her male counterpart, her brain was not removed during mummification, either.
The last mummy was that of a girl in her late teens. She showed signs of having a benign tumor on her back, and all of her internal organs were still intact. Her coffin contains hairpins, suggesting that she wore her hair up as depicted in her portrait.
How does this change our understanding of Egyptian life and death?
Finding hairpins with the remains is noteworthy, as only a few other such examples exist. It provides further evidence that ancient Egyptians wore their hair up.
Other mummies have been buried with coins, but in Egypt, the practice does not seem to go back to before Alexander the Great conquered the area. This suggests that the deceased had adopted elements of the Greeks' religion and brought along coins to pay Charon.
The find also sheds more light on how the Egyptians lived and died under Greek and later Roman rule and how their conquerors' beliefs and art styles influenced their religion.
- DNA shows Scythian warrior mummy was a 13-year-old girl - Big Think ›
- A mummy murder has been solved after 2,600 years - Big Think ›
- Scientists recreate voice of 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy - Big ... ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.