New Discoveries Made after Child Mummy Scanned at Cincinnati Children's

Radiologists learn how child lived and died

Monday, March 16, 2015

Medical images provided by Cincinnati Children’s have revealed new information about a child mummy brought to the hospital as part of a scientific project with the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The mummy, more than 500 years old from Peru, is on display at the “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” until April.

In January, the museum registrar brought the mummy to the radiology department to have X-rays and CT scans performed to determine the age, gender and cause of death. Doctors have been volunteering their time and studying more than 12,000 medical images.

“We took the same approach to evaluating these pictures of the mummy as we would to evaluating any images of any child,” said Andrew Trout, MD, a radiologist for the Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging at Cincinnati Children's. “We are a large pediatric radiology department and within our department we are sub-specialized which takes advantage of the individual expertise of our faculty. Dr. Alex Towbin and I are both body imagers; for this project we focused on the soft tissues to determine gender and evaluate for diseases the child might have had. Dr. Tal Laor, a musculoskeletal radiologist was focused on the bones to try and determine age of the child and to look for finding of chronic disease or malnutrition. Dr. Jim Leach, a neuro-radiologist, was focused on the imaging of the brain and spine.”

The radiologists recently gathered to determine their findings.

“As we look at the sum of the data, we believe this is a female child, a little girl who was about two years to three years of age at the time of death,” said Dr. Trout.

While going over the scans, Dr. Leach discovered a small hole pierced through the child’s spine. To help get a better understanding of the lesion, they created digital 3D models and collaborated with Matt Batie in the department of clinical engineering to create a 3D printed model of the mummy.

“Once I had prepared the model digitally from the scans, I printed five separate pieces and glued them together. They matched up to the exact size and position the mummy was found,” said Matt Batie, a clinical engineering specialist at Cincinnati Children’s. “I think it really helped the radiologists gather their information after being able to look closely at the model and examine it.”

After evaluating the imaging and the 3D models and consulting with scientific researchers associated with the exhibit, it was determined the hole represented a sampling of the mummy that occurred after the mummy was collected.

The 3D printed model also shows the abnormal shape of the child’s head.

“The shape of the skull is most consistent with aesthetic molding for beautification purposes,” said Dr. Trout. “People in that part of the world at that time bound the skull to shape it a certain way they felt was attractive.”

The question still remains as to how the child died. Radiologists were able to rule out several possibilities including:

  • Tuberculosis, a common cause of death in people in that part of the world during that time
  • Major trauma to the body including skull fractures
  • Wide-spread cancer, thyroid dysfunction or some other abnormality that would cause death

The radiographs also revealed what are called ‘growth recovery lines’ in the child’s arms and legs.

“What this means is the child had some sort of stress which stopped growth for a short period of time,” said Dr. Trout. ”This is not malnourishment but is more of a nutritional stress. It’s not to the point the child was developing major abnormalities of the bone. Instead, the body stopped growing for a very short period of time when food was scarce but resumed growing afterward.”

“She was a relatively healthy child and we’re not sure why she died based on what we see in the images."

The information gathered by the radiology team will be used for academic research and be provided to the Cincinnati Museum Center for archive records. The data gathered will also be used in future exhibitions to give visitors more insight into the mummy’s life and death.

"I think the major point that was solidified for me is the value of that sub-specialization we have at Cincinnati Children's,” said Dr. Trout. “Each of these people brought their expertise and that reinforces for me the value of care for children everyday here in Cincinnati."

You can watch doctors studying medical images of the mummy including the 3D models by clicking on this link:

About Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best Children’s Hospitals. It is also ranked in the top 10 for all 10 pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s, a non-profit organization, is one of the top three recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.

Contact Information

Shannon Kettler, 513-636-5218,