Researchers investigate Egyptian mummy bones with X-rays and infrared light

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Experiments at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are casting a new light on Egyptian soil and ancient mummified bone samples that could give a more extravagant comprehension of everyday life and environmental conditions a large number of years back.

In a two-monthslong research exertion that closed in late August, two analysts from Cairo University in Egypt brought 32 bone samples and two soil samples to study utilizing X-ray and infrared light-based strategies at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS). The ALS produces different wavelengths of bright light that can be utilized to investigate the microscopic chemistry, structure, and different properties of samples.

Their visit was made conceivable by LAAAMP—the Light sources for Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Middle East Project—a grant bolstered program that is expected to foster more prominent scientific chance and coordinated effort for researchers working in that region of the globe.

Samples represent four dynasties, two burial sites

The samples included bone pieces of mummified human remains that date back 2,000 to 4,000 years and soil gathered from the sites of the human remains. The remaining parts represent four unique dynasties in Egypt: the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, Late Period, and Greco-Roman.

The visiting researchers, Cairo University Associate Professor Ahmed Elnewishy and postdoctoral specialist Mohamed Kasem, wanted to recognize whether chemical concentrations in the bone samples were identified with the people’s health, diet, and day by day lives, or whether the chemicals in the soil had changed the bones’ chemistry over time.

Their work is significant for Egypt’s social legacy and furthermore for a superior comprehension of antiquities preservation and the potential pathways for contamination of these remaining parts. The samples were recouped from two Egyptian sites—Saqqara, the site of an ancient burial ground; and Aswan, the site of an ancient city on the bank of the Nile once known as Swenett—by Cairo University archeologists.

“The bones are acting as an archive,” said Kasem, who has studied ancient bone chemistry since his Ph.D. studies, dating back to 2011. He has used a chemical-analysis technique involving laser ablation, in which a short laser pulse blasts away a small volume of material from a sample. Then, emitted light from this little blast is analyzed to determine what elements are present.

“We have found the lead, aluminum, and other elements that give us an indication of the environment and the toxicity of that time,” he said. “That information is stored right in the bones.”

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