• Germany's news in English

Scientists use 'naked scanners' to probe mummies

DDP/The Local · 4 Apr 2010, 15:28

Published: 04 Apr 2010 15:28 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The high-frequency “terahertz” scanners can scan fragile mummies in a way that is less damaging than X-ray scanners, which can destroy precious DNA, the scientists say.

Markus Walther and Andrea Bitzer from the Materials Research Centre at the University of Freiburg, have found that the terahertz rays can penetrate the cloth material used to wrap mummies and conveniently probe the dessicated body beneath.

The airport scanners – often derisively referred to a “naked scanners” or “digital strip searchers” – have come up against fierce opposition in Europe and particularly in Germany with privacy campaigners arguing they effectively show the passenger nude.

The airport body scanners take advantage of the fact the waves penetrate clothing but don’t pass through the human body, which is heavily hydrated, or any objects hidden under the clothes.

But the high frequency waves could more effectively probe the dessicated tissue of ancient mummies, Walther said, even if larger and denser parts such as the head remained impenetrable.

The idea had come by chance to both Andreas Bitzer and Lena Öhrström from the University of Zurich, Bitzer recalled. The idea was eagerly embraced by the Swiss Mummy Project, a collaboration of Swiss universities, foundations and museums.

The project’s leader, Zurich mummy expert Frank Rühli, who had worked on the 5,300-year-old Ötzi iceman found on the border of Austria and Italy provided a mummified human hand and a mummified fish to test the technique.

It worked and Rühli today hails the terahertz method as a “new, non-invasive diagnostic method” for the future.

Story continues below…

Though the images were admittedly not as good as X-rays, they crucially did not pose the danger of destroying precious DNA, he said.

Rühli said he had great hope that the further development of the body scanner would soon make it possible to examine whole mummies.

DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Parents who don't get nursery spot for kid entitled to pay
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents whose children don't receive placements in nursery care are entitled to compensation.

Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Mysterious German U-boat wreckage found off Scotland
Photo: ScottishPower

First World War U-boat "attacked by sea monster” thought to be found off Scottish coast.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd