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Researchers use advanced technology to study child mummy

Argonne X-ray scientist Jonathan Almer (left) and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine professor Stuart Stock prepare to use high-energy X-ray beams to learn more about the 1,800-year-old mummified remains believed to be a 5-year-old girl. Researchers from Northwestern and Argonne National Laboratory are using advanced technology to unwrap the mysteries of the mummy. | Teresa Crawford/Associated Press

Researchers from Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory are using advanced technology to unwrap the mysteries of an 1,900-year-old mummy.

They say the high-energy X-ray beams from a synchrotron will provide molecular information about what is inside the mummy of the little girl. Argonne says it’s the first time the beams have been used in this way.

Researchers say the technology allows them to study what’s inside the mummy while leaving the 5-year-old girl’s remains and wrappings intact.

Scientists examined the rare find on Monday in the hopes of learning more about how the girl died. And they say studying the wrapping materials may shed new light on ancient Egyptian culture.

The mummy, which is housed at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, is one of  the 100 portrait mummies known, officials said. These type of mummies have wrappings with lifelike paintings of the dead person.

“This is a unique experiment, a 3-D puzzle,” NU research professor of cell and molecular biology Stuart Stock said of the synchrotron experiment he is leading.

“We have some preliminary findings about the various materials, but it will take days before we tighten down the precise answers to our questions.”