Mummy Scanners

   Posted by: Keith Payne   

Categories: Egypt in the News, Mummies

No, it’s not a new David Cronenberg movie about mummies with exploding heads, it’s an innovative use for those annoying scanners that airport employees use to ogle your naked bod.   

The scanners, technically called terahertz scanners, but more derisively dubbed “digital strip searches,” peek under your clothing but can’t penetrate your body, or any contraband you might have strapped to it. 


But terahertz scanners have other properties that have caught the attention of Dr. Frank Ruhli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project.


X-Rays perform two tasks really well:  See through things, and kill them.  The first comes in pretty handy, but the second is a real downer.  The occasional bursts you get at the dentist’s office stand a very remote chance of causing problems, but ultimately it’s a numbers game.  It’s not that you don’t get enough radiation to cause damage when you go in for that root canal, it’s more a matter of not being x-rayed often enough to do any serious harm. 

But when you are racking up the rays as quickly as frequent flyer miles, those missing electrons start to add up.  In a perfect world, airports should be able to protect you from terrorists without slowly mutating you on your way to business class.  Enter the terahertz scanner. 

According to Popular Mechanics,

Terahertz radiation is a band that lies between microwaves and infrared, with a short wavelength that gives it better resolution than microwave imaging. Crucially, it also carries much less energy than X-rays.  (“Efficient, Cancer-Free Scanner Could Mean Ixnay on the X-Ray”)

That means that airport technicians can look at you naked with a clean conscious—it may be degrading and humiliating, but it isn’t lethal. 

But scientists have discovered that terahertz rays have another useful feature—two, actually.  First, they penetrate past mummy wrappings and deeper into their desiccated flesh than your own well-hydrated body.  Second, they do so without destroying that fragile ancient DNA we have been reading so much about lately.

So does it work? 

Frank Ruhli offered up a mummified fish and a spare hand he had lying around, and the scanners passed with flying colors, just none that you can see with the naked eye.  The technology has its limitations, and is not really a replacement for X-rays, but as with frequent flyers, the less often you use the big guns, the better.

For the full article, check out The Local:  “Scientists use ‘naked scanners’ to probe mummies.”

Another related article:  The NationalThe mummy’s secrets revealed


Copyright by Keith Payne, 2010.  All rights reserved.

Tags: , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, April 5th, 2010 at 6:59 am and is filed under Egypt in the News, Mummies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far


Hello Shemsu Sesen

Ah yes David Cronenberg the good old days of head exploding. The science is great but I wanted to make sure you have seen this.



April 5th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Wow! Great link, Tim, thanks for sharing it!

CT scanning is still the top dog, no doubt. It is difficult to imagine where the technology will be in just ten years. One of the things I think the airport scanner story brings up is that we don’t even really know all the potential of existing technology.

Exciting times we live in, friends!

Readers are highly encouraged to click through the above link.

April 5th, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Leave a reply

Name (*)
Mail (will not be published) (*)