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3,200-year-old woman comes to Stanford

Cameras clicked and media people cut in front of one another other with iPhones, trying to get a good shot, as a very old woman arrived at Stanford last week for a CT scan. She wasn’t here for treatment, though. She’s a mummy who has been dead for more than 3,000 years. No one knows her name, but she’s sometimes been called Hatason.

Born in the Egyptian city of Asyut some 3,200 years ago, Hatason lived about 50 years after the great pharaoh Ramesses II. Her home is at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco on the bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Eighteen people, not counting Hatason, crammed into a basement research lab near Stanford Hospital to find out what lay inside the ancient wrappings that once enclosed Hatason’s body. (The lab, which features a high-end CT scanner, is managed by Kerstin Müller, PhD, an instructor of radiology at the medical school.) As I wrote for Inside Stanford Medicine:

Was she the same age as the coffin she has been stored in? Or could it have been from an earlier or later period? As the scanner’s long arms whirred and spun around the mummy, the room full of radiology and mummy experts stared intently at the images coming up on several computer displays for clues about who she was. The shape of her skull and hips could reveal her sex, and the way she was wrapped and the presence of amulets might say something about her status.

But the state-of-the-art scanning equipment showed there wasn’t much left but empty space where Hatason’s body once lay; just a scramble of disarticulated bones (see video above).

Amazingly, though, the mummy experts could tell a lot even from that. Her delicate, gracile skull suggested she was a woman and even the peculiar preservation said something about the funerary practices of the Asyut.

We'll have more videos and photos of Hatason here soon. And stay tuned for more updates after a team of radiology, mummy and Egyptology experts draw their conclusions later this month.

Previously: How Stanford scanned a 2,500-year-old mummyAncient mummy meets modern medicine (and daddy, too) at Legion of HonorMummyblogging, round two and Photoblogging: mummy edition
Video by Lior Molvin of Stanford Radiology, courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; photo by Norbert von der Groeben

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