Scientific techniques

Below are listed 10 different testing methods used by the scientists involved in this project.

X-rays use radiation to show the outline of bones and organs. The technique was first used to look at Egyptian mummies by W M Flinders Petrie in 1898. Modern digital X-ray equipment remains the most important step when examining mummies. It can also be used to examine metal objects and even textiles.

CT scanning
Computed Axial Tomography is an advanced form of X-ray. It is used after conventional X-rays to look in more detail at a body. Instead of showing the outline of bones and organs, the CT images can show slices through a body or can create a 3D model of the body or object.

X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction
X-ray fluorescence is a non-destructive way to analyse the surface of materials, such as metal and pottery, and is particularly useful for examining pottery glazes and decoration. X-ray diffraction identifies minerals by analysing their structure and where they may have come from.

Laser scanning
Close range laser scanning equipment projects a red laser beam on to an object to create a 3D data set accurate to within 20 millionths of a metre. This virtual model can be studied on a computer screen without having to handle the object itself. The collection's fragile Anubis mask was laser scanned by Plowman Craven 3D.

Carbon dating
Carbon dating is used to work out the age of things which were once alive. All forms of life take in and store carbon 14, which decays at a known rate. Since the process stops at death, the amount left helps pinpoint when death occurred, so it can date objects such as the mummified toad.

Ultra-violet and infrared
Ultra violet light can reveal things normal daylight does not, and is used to locate traces of paint on an object or even tattoos on a mummy. Infrared techniques measure the energy of molecular vibrations in order to identify a range of organic compounds. This provides clues about the material before GCMS provides a more detailed and definitive answer.

GCMS AND LCMS: Gas chromatography mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry
GCMS and LCMS provide a chemical fingerprint using samples as small as a pinhead. The equipment separates each sample into its individual components. These can then be identified to reveal the composition of ancient paints still inside pots in the collection.

See the process of GCMS testing on a cosmetic pot

Pyrolysis provides a complex chemical fingerprint using samples even smaller than the size of a pinhead. These are heated to a high temperature to break them down into smaller pieces, which can then be used to identify the original material. It is particularly useful for identifying resins such as frankincense and myrrh.

Ion chromatography
Ion Chromatography analyses small samples in inorganic substances such as salts. The process works out what these substances are and where they may have come from, providing information about technology and trade. Like GCMS, this technique is particularly useful for examining the original contents of pots in the collection.

Experimental archaeology
Experimental archaeology is used to investigate how something worked. This can range from how ancient perfumes were made to the kind of damage caused by ancient weapons. Maceheads in the collection were recreated by stonemason Matthias Garn to replicate injuries such weapons could make on a body.