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Health & Science

The mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh has been 'digitally unwrapped'

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

About 3,500 years ago, a pharaoh died. Amenhotep was wrapped tightly in perfect linens and mummified, and nobody knew what was under those linens - that is, until now.

SAHAR SALEEM: This mummy is very special. It's the only mummy that has never been unwrapped in modern times.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Dr. Sahar Saleem is a radiologist at Cairo University and part of the Egyptian Mummy Project. Dr. Saleem put the pharaoh's mummy through a CT scanner to find out just what he looked like without having to unwrap all that delicate cloth.

SALEEM: There were 30 amulets in between the wrapping and also inside. And also, the king was wearing a wonderful belt made of 34 gold beads.

INSKEEP: But the real surprise was his teeth.

SALEEM: I looked at the teeth of the other kings and queens. Most of them - they had bad teeth. But it was amazing that the Amenhotep the king had nice teeth. Maybe he had good hygiene.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Saleem says these ancient remains offer some insights for our own time.

SALEEM: They are like a time capsule. We can know their health condition, their teeth hygiene, the ancient diseases that they had. These are all important for our modern understanding of the natural history of diseases, our modern understanding of civilization.

INSKEEP: Which, for Dr. Saleem, is the point.

SALEEM: Doing this work is a blessing. It has the joy of unwrapping a Christmas gift.

INSKEEP: Although in this case, she got the gift without unwrapping it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.