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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.

Over the past a number of months, a sure  hen, believed to be an African Sacred Ibis, has been drawing plenty of consideration and protecting plenty 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 totally different facets of analysis that took the hen to varied locations on campus as she tried to be taught all the things she may in regards to 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 mentioned.

The mother hen’s precise provenance is tough to find out. Ever for the reason that late 1800s, mummies of various sizes and shapes and species have discovered their solution to Cornell. Its bodily look —a tear-shaped swaddle of linen, barely bigger than a soccer—reveals little or no, and no document exists of the mother’s arrival on the college, most likely a century or extra in the past. Since then, it has moved amongst numerous 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 Middle for Know-how Licensing. Then she entered the college’s worker diploma program and acquired full tuition to pursue a grasp’s diploma in archaeology.

Her major analysis curiosity is the methods know-how could 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 research. So Barsody got down to discover collaborators who may use Twenty first-century know-how to assist her peek beneath the mother’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 advanced 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 mother to the Cornell Faculty of Veterinary Drugs, the place an imaging technician performed radiographs and a CT scan that confirmed their bundle did actually comprise a hen. Not solely that: The CT scan confirmed that among the hen’s gentle tissue and feathers have been nonetheless intact.

Hoping to be taught extra about their hen’s organic and physiological traits, Barsody and Gleach took the mother 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 mother 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 mentioned, since ibises have been generally mummified on account of their affiliation with demise and Thoth, the god of knowledge and magic. Ibises have been so standard, they have been typically bred en masse for the only goal of being offered as votives. In response to Birds of the World, 1.5 million ibises have been entombed in catacombs at Saqqara, the positioning of an unlimited necropolis and pyramids on the historical Egyptian capital of Memphis. Sacred ibises have been widespread in Egypt till the early nineteenth century, however they have been virtually fully passed by 1850 and are extirpated from the nation in the present day.

Rohwer weighed the mother, 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 previous.

“It’s enjoyable to piece these items collectively,” Rohwer mentioned. “It’s a real-life puzzle.”

Probably the most important piece of that puzzle might turn into the gentle 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, in regards to the prospect of extracting genetic materials via endoscopic microsurgery. If the hen’s DNA matches every other samples from a database of mummified sacred ibises, Barsody ought to be capable of decide the temple the place it was buried, and thus the age and the area during which it lived.

The subsequent section of Barsody’s challenge is much more bold.

“I need to deliver the hen again to life,” she mentioned.

Barsody is working with Cornell electrical and pc engineering undergraduate pupil Jack Defay to scan the mother with open-source know-how and smartphones with a view 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,” mentioned Barsody, who at present 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 of really get to a museum.”

All of the whereas, she continues to dig via college archives and historic information to be taught as a lot as she will be able to in regards to the mummy and what it meant to a tradition that thought so extremely of this hen, they preserved it eternally.

“Not solely was this as soon as a residing creature that individuals of the day might have loved watching stroll via the water. It additionally was, and is, one thing sacred, one thing non secular,” Barsody mentioned. “Now it has this complete complete 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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