Washington, May 11 : Scientists have developed a computed radiography (CR) system that can help to uncover secrets from the past by capturing, archiving and sharing digital x-ray images of centuries old biological specimens and artifacts.
Developed by Carestream Health, the CR system is being used by the Field Museum in US, for the first time, to capture, archive and share digital x-ray images from more than one million priceless specimens and artifacts in its Anthropology collection.
"The availability of this advanced x-ray system will have tremendous benefits not only for research, but also for management of our collections," said Robert D. Martin, the A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology at the Field Museum.
"Non-invasive visualization of specimens and artifacts can yield valuable new scientific information, and it can also provide crucial indications for proper conservation of specimens in our care," he added.
Recently captured digital images have revealed a previously unknown erosion of the parietal lobes in the skull of an ancient Egyptian mummy at the museum. This could indicate the presence of parasites, anemia or malnourishment shortly before death.
Similarly, curators will be looking for signs of spinal cord deterioration in other specimens, which could be a sign of tuberculosis.
"The nice part about this new digital equipment is that it is very fast and the images are so sharp." said J.P. Brown, Conservator, Anthropology, the Field Museum.
"This system allows us to do in a day what it used to take a week to accomplish," he added.
According to Brown, the CR system has already led to new discoveries.
A digital image of the pelvis of the same Egyptian mummy revealed that the person was most likely a woman between 30 and 40 years old.
Additionally, an image of a Peruvian "false head" revealed the surprising presence of shells inside the artifact.
In another example, an image of the head of a statue of a king from a Sassanian palace in Iraq revealed metal pieces that had been added to the statue as part of a restoration that was probably performed in the late 1940s.
"With the CR system, the museum's staff is realizing the many benefits of digital imaging technology in its day-to-day operations," said Laryssa Johnson, Marketing Director, Digital Capture Solutions, Carestream Health.
"For example, this system, typically used by healthcare facilities worldwide to capture patient x-ray images, is now producing high-quality digital images of the museum's priceless artifacts for use in ongoing research projects," she added.
The CR system is ideal for use with organic objects such as mummies, leather goods and baskets, and can generate excellent images of denser museum pieces such as ceramics, stucco and beads.