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article imageSeeing preserved mummies clearer thanks to virtual imaging

By Tim Sandle     Mar 1, 2017 in Technology
London - Advanced imaging has interfaced with antiquities thanks to a new initiative from the British Museum in London. This makes use of imaging software designed to enhance the visitor experience.
Using the visualization technology, visitors to the British Museum can view and learn about what happened to the mummified 'Geberlein Man'. The body of the man was mummified around 5,500 years ago. The reason why the mummy is a popular exhibit is due to its rareity (in terms of preservation) and because the cause of death was murder. Geberlein Man is one of the key attractions at the London museum. The mummy is nicknamed Ginger (due to his red hair); the mummified remains are of a young man, who was, forensics has revealed, stabbed in the back during a period of peacetime. According to The Daily Telegraph, “his shoulder blade is damaged and the rib underneath shattered in a manner consistent with a stab wound.”
The man was between 18 and 21-years-old when he died. On death the body was wrapped in linen and matting and placed in a shallow grave. Through direct contact with the hot, dry sand, in which Gebelein Man was buried, the remains became naturally dried and mummified. Rare environmental conditions account for the well-preserved nature of the specimen.
To help visitors appreciate and understand the specimen, a new visual initiative has been developed. At the forefront of this is Professor Anders Ynnerman, from Linköping University and director of Visualization Center C. To create the end-product the research institute has worked closely with the British Museum. Professor Ynnerman has discussed the process to create the visitor experience with his university’s website: "It was challenging to obtain sufficiently high performance of the visualization such that visitors can interact with the table in real-time, without experiencing delays. Further, the interaction must be both intuitive and informative.”
To achieve this clear and interactive display thousands of images of the mummy were taken using computer tomography. These were stored in the table and the final set consisted of over 10,000 virtual 'slices', taken through the complete mummy. These ‘image slices’ were ultra-thin, being only one third of a millimeter thin. Through the use of rapid graphics processors the images were then rendered as three dimensional pictures. The image creation process allows the computer tomography images, which are based on X-rays, to be converted into color via a specially developed transfer function. Bone, as an example, is converted to a light grey color; and soft tissue as a skin like color.
With the end product museum visitors can view the inside of the mummy through a real-time, virtual reality-like imaging system. Here images are displayed at a rate of 60 images per second. This is sufficient for the human brain to interpret the images as continuous motion. The exhibit is also interactive, enabling visitors to carry out such gory tasks as peeling away the desiccated skin of the mummy. This process allows the viewer to see where Gebelein Man was stabbed.
The application of the visual technology is published in the journal Communications of the ACM under the heading “Interactive visualization of 3d scanned mummies at public venues.”
More about virtual imaging, Virtual reality, Imaging, Scanning, Museum
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