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Secrets From The Tomb

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Jeff Haessler

New technology is allowing scientists to take another look at mummies that are 3,000-years-old

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They are some of the most popular exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

“People love mummies. The Egyptian mummies are a really exciting part of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science,” says University of Denver alumna Michele Koons.

Koons says thanks to the rigorous anthropology program at the University of Denver, she was well prepared when she went on to Harvard to get her PhD. Now she’s the curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

This spring Koons partnered with the University of Denver in hopes of learning more about two 3,000-year-old female mummies. Using a CT scanner at Children’s Hospital, she hopes to find out who the women were, how they lived and how they died.

“The mummies were scanned in the 1990s, and we decided to scan them again this past April because the technology has advanced so much,” Koons says.

These were people, and we do need to keep that remembrance of humanity about them. Michele Koons (M.A. '06), Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Bonnie Clark, associate professor of anthropology, and Keith Miller, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at DU, collaborated to make it all happen.

“I decided to contact Bonnie Clark because I knew Bonnie had been working with XRF technology and looking at the chemical composition of stone tools, and she had borrowed some materials from the collection here,” Koons says.

Clark explains: “He (Dr. Miller) approached me one time at a faculty mixer and said, ‘If I got a portable X-ray florescent instrument, could you use it to analyze artifacts?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely! Fantastic! Let’s make this happen!’”

“I come in with the expertise in culture and artifact analysis. And he (Miller) brings in the side of the chemistry and what the instrument is really doing,” explains Clark.

It’s an example of the interdisciplinary work happening at DU. “This is a dream come true,” says Farah Taylor, a master’s student at DU’s library and information science program. “I myself have multiple interests, and my studies are very interdisciplinary. It’s really great to see the finished product of the whole team with people who come from different backgrounds and have different interests. Putting all of that passion and knowledge in to the same project.”

New information from the scanning has not been revealed as of yet, but the research continues. Through it all, Koons says it’s important to remember these aren’t just mummies. “These were people, and we do need to keep that remembrance of humanity about them. I really do feel privileged and respectful of those women.”