Computed Radiography System Helps Uncover Secrets From The Past

New digital imaging computed radiography enables the Field Museum to
examine objects and exhibits without intrusive penetration. The
sharpness of the digital images allows work to be done in a day rather
than the week previously required for film-based x-ray techniques.
Picture at the cite.

Computed Radiography System Helps Uncover Secrets From The Past

This cross-table X-ray image of the head of an ancient Egyptian mummy
was taken recently with new digital medical imaging technology. It is
exceptionally clear and reveals a previously unknown erosion of the
parietal lobes in the mummy's skull. This could indicate the presence
of parasites, anemia, or malnourishment shortly before death. Note the
material under the mummy's chin, likely a fat-filled linen wadding
used in mummies to give the neck a natural shape. (Credit: Photo
courtesy of The Field Museum)

ScienceDaily (May 9, 2008) — Digital medical imaging and information
technology from Carestream Health, Inc., is playing a key role in
helping The Field Museum of Chicago discover and analyze secrets
hidden within its world-class collections.

Carestream Health has donated a computed radiography (CR) system that
enables The Field Museum--for the first time--to capture, archive and
share digital x-ray images from more than one million priceless
specimens and artifacts in its Anthropology collection. The Field
Museum is also using a picture archiving and communications system
(PACS) from Carestream Health for the management, viewing and storage
of the growing collection of digital images managed by the museum's

"The availability of this advanced x-ray system will have tremendous
benefits not only for research, but also for management of our
collections," said Robert D. Martin, the A. Watson Armour III Curator
of Biological Anthropology at The Field Museum. "Non-invasive
visualization of specimens and artifacts can yield valuable new
scientific information, and it can also provide crucial indications
for proper conservation of specimens in our care."

Images of an ancient Egyptian mummy demonstrate how digital images are
superior to film images. Recently captured digital images have
revealed a previously unknown erosion of the parietal lobes in the
mummy's skull. This could indicate the presence of parasites, anemia
or malnourishment shortly before death. Similarly, curators will be
looking for signs of spinal cord deterioration in other specimens,
which could be a sign of tuberculosis.

"The nice part about this new digital equipment is that it is very
fast and the images are so sharp," said J.P. Brown, Conservator,
Anthropology, The Field Museum. "This system allows us to do in a day
what it used to take a week to accomplish."

The CR system has already led to new discoveries, Brown added. A
digital image of the pelvis of the same Egyptian mummy revealed that
the person was most likely a woman between 30 and 40 years old.
Additionally, an image of a Peruvian "false head" (falsa cabeza)
revealed the surprising presence of shells inside the artifact.
Anthropology Collections Manager Chris Philip identified shells inside
the stuffing of the mask. The clarity of the image allowed
Invertebrates Collections Manager Jochen Gerber to specify two
complete shells as Mesodesma donacium, an edible marine clam
inhabiting the waters off the west coast of South America. This may
help to answer the tantalizing question of why this "false head" was
packed with shells. The shells appear to be a deliberate addition to
the filling of the mask, possibly a food offering, but their meaning
is unclear since no other specimens with added shells are known.

In another example, an image of the head of a statue of a king from a
Sassanian palace in Iraq revealed metal pieces that had been added to
the statue as part of a restoration that was probably performed in the
late 1940s. Prior to capturing this image, Field Museum conservators
had planned to treat the statue with water to soak out salts that had
accumulated in it over the years while it was buried in the ground. If
they had done so, the metal pieces would have rusted and the pressure
from the rust would have caused the piece to break apart. Now--armed
with new information--the conservators are developing a method to
stabilize the artifact that does not involve immersing it in water.

For several decades, The Field Museum used x-ray film to capture
images of its unique collections. "With the CR system, the museum's
staff is realizing the many benefits of digital imaging technology in
its day-to-day operations," said Laryssa Johnson, Marketing Director,
Digital Capture Solutions, Carestream Health. "For example, this
system--typically used by healthcare facilities worldwide to capture
patient x-ray images--is now producing high-quality digital images of
the museum's priceless artifacts for use in ongoing research

Carestream Health's CR system is ideal for use with organic objects
such as mummies, leather goods and baskets, and can generate excellent
images of denser museum pieces such as ceramics, stucco and beads. The
company's digital workstation--also on site--allows the museum to have
one centralized image review platform with a powerful database that
provides quick and easy access to studies and images.

"As one of the world's leading educational institutions, The Field
Museum's collection-based research and exhibits help create greater
public understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live,"
said Diana Nole, President, Digital Capture Solutions, Carestream
Health. "Our digital technology is helping the museum's talented staff
further unlock the many mysteries contained within its priceless

Carestream Health has a special business unit--its Non-Destructive
Testing Solutions group--that develops and delivers non-destructive
testing systems for a wide variety of industries and businesses around
the world. The company has dedicated resources available to the museum/
art world for implementing innovative digital systems for capturing
images of architectural objects, mummies, dinosaurs, sculptures,
paintings, historical artifacts and much more.
Adapted from materials provided by Field Museum, via EurekAlert!, a
service of AAAS.
Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of
the following formats:

Field Museum (2008, May 9). Computed Radiography System Helps Uncover
Secrets From The Past. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 9, 2008, from­; /releases/2008/05/080507083944.htm