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Unraveling a Mummy Chook Thriller


Closeup of an ibis - a large, long-legged black-and-white bird with a heavy, curved bill, spreads its wings as it wades through water
African Sacred Ibis by Mike Marin/Macaulay Library.

During the last a number of months, a sure  hen, believed to be an African Sacred Ibis, has been drawing a whole lot of consideration and overlaying a whole lot of floor at Cornell College—from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to the Faculty of Veterinary Drugs, Faculty of Engineering, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Not unhealthy for an animal that has been lifeless and mummified for greater than 1,500 years.

The so-called “mummy hen” has had assist getting round. Carol Anne Barsody, a grasp’s pupil in archaeology, has been concerned in a number of completely different elements of analysis that took the hen to numerous locations on campus as she tried to be taught all the things she may concerning the artifact—a part of the Cornell College Anthropology Collections.

“One of many issues I really like about this challenge is that it incorporates experience from throughout Cornell, all working collectively on a standard aim,” Barsody stated.

The mother hen’s actual provenance is tough to find out. Ever for the reason that late 1800s, mummies of various styles and sizes and species have discovered their strategy to Cornell. Its bodily look —a tear-shaped swaddle of linen, barely bigger than a soccer—reveals little or no, and no report exists of the mum’s arrival on the college, most likely a century or extra in the past. Since then, it has moved amongst varied college collections, saved inside a field mislabeled “hawk mummy.”

Barsody herself discovered a novel path to the challenge. She first got here to the college not as a pupil, however as an worker, with a background in arithmetic, working for the Heart for Know-how Licensing. Then she entered the college’s worker diploma program and obtained full tuition to pursue a grasp’s diploma in archaeology.

Her major analysis curiosity is the methods expertise may be built-in inside museum exhibitions and the way that may change museum gathering practices, entry to collections, and assist with repatriation efforts. The mother hen made for an efficient case examine. So Barsody got down to discover collaborators who may use Twenty first-century expertise to assist her peek beneath the mum’s wrappings with out disturbing the integrity of the artifact.

Four people wearing gloves and masks attach scanning equipment to a brown bundle containing a mummified ibis.
A Cornell College effort to review a mummified hen from historical Egypt developed right into a cross-college collaboration, together with (left to proper) anthropology collections curator Frederic Gleach, archaeology masters pupil Carol Anne Barsody, pc engineering undergraduate Jack Defay, and electrical and pc engineering lecturer Hunter Adams. Picture by Ryan Younger/Cornell College.

In November, Barsody and Frederic Gleach, curator of the Cornell Anthropology Collections, introduced the mum to the Cornell Faculty of Veterinary Drugs, the place an imaging technician performed radiographs and a CT scan that confirmed their bundle did in reality comprise a hen. Not solely that: The CT scan confirmed that a number of the hen’s comfortable tissue and feathers had been nonetheless intact.

Hoping to be taught extra about their hen’s organic and physiological traits, Barsody and Gleach took the mum to Vanya Rohwer, curator of the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates, which is housed on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

black-and-white image showing the neck, head, and long, curved bill of an ibis
Utilizing a CT scan from the Cornell Faculty of Veterinary Drugs, Cornell Museum of Vertebrates curator Vanya Rohwer recognized the mum as an African Sacred Ibis.

After reviewing the scans and consulting a database, Rohwer recognized the hen as a male African Sacred Ibis, on account of its total physique form and downward sloping invoice. This wasn’t a complete shock, Barsody stated, since ibises had been generally mummified as a result of their affiliation with loss of life and Thoth, the god of knowledge and magic. Ibises had been so widespread, they had been typically bred en masse for the only real goal of being offered as votives. In response to Birds of the World, 1.5 million ibises had been entombed in catacombs at Saqqara, the location of an enormous necropolis and pyramids on the historical Egyptian capital of Memphis. Sacred ibises had been frequent in Egypt till the early nineteenth century, however they had been virtually utterly passed by 1850 and are extirpated from the nation right this moment.

Rohwer weighed the mum, which got here in at 942 grams, roughly the identical as a quart of milk. As greatest they’ll inform, the hen is someplace on the order of 1,500 to 2,000 years outdated.

“It’s enjoyable to piece this stuff collectively,” Rohwer stated. “It’s a real-life puzzle.”

Essentially the most important piece of that puzzle might turn into the comfortable tissue the CT scan revealed. Barsody is now again on the Faculty of Veterinary Drugs, consulting with Dr. Eric Ledbetter, professor and part chief of ophthalmology, concerning the prospect of extracting genetic materials by means of endoscopic microsurgery. If the hen’s DNA matches another samples from a database of mummified sacred ibises, Barsody ought to be capable to decide the temple the place it was buried, and thus the age and the area wherein it lived.

The following section of Barsody’s challenge is much more formidable.

“I wish to carry the hen again to life,” she stated.

Barsody is working with Cornell electrical and pc engineering undergraduate pupil Jack Defay to scan the mum with open-source expertise and smartphones as a way to construct a 3D mannequin of the hen—a low-cost methodology of artifact digitization. The mother hen, its 3D mannequin, and a hologram model will all be included in a multisensory exhibition that Barsody is planning to carry at Upson Corridor on the Cornell campus in October.

“The aim is to gauge the general public’s readiness for exhibitions with out the artifacts,” stated Barsody, who presently works at Cornell’s Johnson Museum of Artwork. “That will get into larger questions on repatriation, institutional gathering practices, entry, and training on this post-COVID world, the place you won’t be capable to truly get to a museum.”

All of the whereas, she continues to dig by means of college archives and historic information to be taught as a lot as she will concerning the mummy and what it meant to a tradition that thought so extremely of this hen, they preserved it without end.

“Not solely was this as soon as a residing creature that individuals of the day might have loved watching stroll by means of the water. It additionally was, and is, one thing sacred, one thing spiritual,” Barsody stated. “Now it has this complete total lifetime of being studied, and revered, as a small consultant of the superb tradition from which it originated. It’s had a number of lives.

“I take a look at what I’m doing as one other type of extending its unbelievable life.” 

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