Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Technology Science

Beamlines To Reveal Secrets of the Mummies 64

Posted by timothy
from the look-deep-inside-you-are-getting-sleepy dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "A British X-ray with a light ten billion times brighter than the sun is to be used to reveal the secrets of statues, mummies, sarcophagi and other ancient artifacts to analyze their composition and how they were made. Three Egyptian bronze figurines from the British Museum will be among the first treasures to be investigated by the Joint Engineering, Environmental and Processing beamline, or Jeep, using intense radiation known as synchrotron light which allows scientists to see through solid objects and to show structural details that cannot be seen by standard X-rays. 'It might give us the chance to look at the contents. The Egyptians used to stash things inside their statues. We also get very fragile inner sarcophagi or mummy wrappings,' says Jen Hiller, a scientist working on the beamline. In Grenoble a team has used synchrotron radiation to discover the first known fossilized brain, of a fish-like creature; details are to be published this month. In California it is being used to decipher the Archimedes palimpsest — a text by the Greek mathematician that was overwritten in medieval times."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Beamlines To Reveal Secrets of the Mummies

Comments Filter:
  • I stash things in my statues all the time
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In other words the power level was over 9000.

  • by spinkham (56603) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @12:56PM (#26888691)
    I assume the "10 billion times brighter then the sun" is an apparent brightness measurement of the sun at the earth, and not of the suns actual luminosity. If it is actually that much brighter then the sun, then that's REALLY impressive...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blueg3 (192743)

      I'm certain they mean that the intensity of the beam is 10^10 larger than the intensity of solar radiation at Earth. (I assume they're referring to energy flux and not photon flux. The synchrotron I worked at produced roughly 10^19 photons/m^2/s; the photon flux at Earth from the sun is roughly 10^21. Synchrotron beams, however, consist of much higher-energy photons.)

      While synchrotrons are certainly capable of producing very high-energy beams, if they're referring to intensity, it's sort of cheating -- you

      • by ZombieWomble (893157) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:10PM (#26890111)
        I was at Diamond last weekend, and while idling around the foyer I was having a look at their big posters boasting about how bright their beam was. A closer look at the units indicated that it's even more abstract than "photons per unit area". The units they're talking about are (deep breath...) "Photons per second per square millimetre per millirad per 0.1% beam width". So they're not only counting area, but also divergence and how well-defined the beam is. All things the sun tends to be rather poor at, really, so it's not the fairest comparison ever.
        • by blueg3 (192743)

          Interesting. I've never seen that metric, only photons/s/mm^2, which is fairly standard for beam intensity.

        • by Manzanita (167643)

          Okay, this is a bit off-topic, but the standard synchrotron brightness units are Photons per second per square millimeter per .1% band width, measured at the spot in the endstation. Speaking of source brightness you would use square milliradians instead of millimeters. The .1% band width is a funny unit which refers to deltaE/E, so the brightness here is really a function of energy. In the visible, for yellow light like the sun, .1%bw is about .0022eV at 2.2eV=570nm. For the Fe K-edge, where they may have b

        • Only on /. would someone feel the need to defend the Sun.
    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      I think it is possible to make something that actually puts out more light than the sun, but for a very short period of time. I see this phrase used when talking about femtosecond lasers and stuff.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      By brightness, they mean the number of photons in an area and how collimated the photons are. Brightness in this usage has units of (# of photons per unit time per unit area per unit solid angle per energy bandwidth).

      As an analogy, an optical laser has a small beam that is highly collimated, and so is much brighter than a light bulb (which emits in all directions) even if the total number of photons emitted and total power is smaller. A laser also emits a very narrow band of wavelengths (energy), which im

  • Mummy question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BigHungryJoe (737554) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @12:57PM (#26888711) Homepage

    Every once in a while, I'll hear someone say -

    "Autopsies performed on the remains of mummies show that they had cocaine alkaloids in their system, which means that the ancient Egyptians traveled to South America"

    I've always suspected that was complete hogwash. I would appreciate it if someone would shed some light on THAT mummy mystery.

    • Re:Mummy question (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:08PM (#26888921)

      Chemical evidence of tobacco has been found in ancient Egyptian mummies, although tobacco was supposed to be unknown in the Old World prior to Columbus. First, fragments of tobacco were found deep in the abdominal cavity of the 3200-year-old mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II while it was being studied in a European museum. Some skeptics immediately concluded that this had to be due to modern contamination in the museum. This American plant could not possibly have been known in Egypt, they insisted. In 1992 physical scientists in Germany used sophisticated laboratory instrumentation to test nine other Egyptian mummies. They found chemical residues of tobacco, coca (another American plant, the source of cocaine), and the Asian native hashish (the source of marijuana) in the hair, soft tissues, skin, and bones of eight of the mummies. These traces included cotinine, a chemical whose presence means that the tobacco had been consumed and metabolized while the deceased person was alive. (The ninth mummy contained coca and hashish residues but not tobacco.) Dates of the corpses according to historical records from Egypt ranged from 1070 BC to AD 395, indicating that these drugs were continuously available to some Egyptians for no less than 1,450 years. Investigators have since found evidence of the drugs in additional mummies from Egypt.

      S. Balabanovea, F. Parsche, and W. Pirsig, "First identification of drugs in Egyptian mummies," Naturwissenschaften 79 (1992): 358.

      A. G. Nerlich, F. Parsche, I. Wiest, P. Schramel, and U. LÃhrs, "Extensive pulmonary hemorrhage in an Egyptian mummy," Virchows Archiv 427/4 (1995): 423â"29; Franz Parsche and Andreas Nerlich, "Presence of drugs in different tissues of an Egyptian mummy," Fresenius' Journal of Analytical Chemistry 352 (1995): 380â"84.

      • Re:Mummy question (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:45PM (#26890753) Homepage

        While the chemical traces are intriguing... a complete and utter lack of corroborating evidence (I.E. remains of plants in the tombs, records of their growth, examples in tomb or temple paintings, surviving examples, etc. etc.) renders them suspect.
         
        Hmm... a quick google search leads me to the page [byu.edu] you cut and pasted the above from - a page from an organization with a vested interest in finding evidence of cross pollination from the New World to the Old. I can find no other mentions of the first paper. The second paper, I can find references to - mostly defenses against debunkers, and curiously the defense consists mostly of "the chances of error are infinitesimal, and since the chances of error are so small we can assume that there are no errors".

        • by Whorhay (1319089)
          Actually BYU would if anything have a vested interest in showing that things from the old world arrived in the new world prior to Columbus, not so much the other way around. The Later Day Saints (Mormons) believe that several groups of people traveled from the old world at different times to inhabit the America's. In their teachings there is only one instance I can think of where a group possibly leaves the America's, but they never return which would be required for trade. And those mummies were supposedly
        • by Suicyco (88284)

          Whats the big deal, are you so sure that over the thousands of years these civilizations existed, nobody ever made a boat trip across the atlantic?

          They weren't about to paint their tombs with farm records. I'm sure all kinds of cross pollination happened all over the planet in the thousands and thousands of years these large trading civilizations existed. Why is that so amazing, unbelievable or even that interesting?

          Just because some young civilization that now claims to have done everything first (europe)

          • Whats the big deal, are you so sure that over the thousands of years these civilizations existed, nobody ever made a boat trip across the atlantic?

            No, I'm not 'so sure'. Nor am I so unintelligent as to assume that uncorroborated evidence has any value in determining whether they did or did not.

            They weren't about to paint their tombs with farm records.

            Which is an odd claim to make, since that is precisely what they did do. Not to mention the lack of the substances in question in their grave

            • by Suicyco (88284)

              Of course, because scribblings on tombs don't tell us the entire history of said civilization, then there cannot possibly be any events which aren't in full evidence.

              Whatever, its all a big conspiracy and religious wackos are just trying to fool you. Its not like tobacco and coca were actually found on mummies or anything. Oh wait, they were.

              We don't even have any idea exactly how the pyramids were built, or if they were built by slaves, or any number of things we do not know about their civilization from s

          • Whats the big deal, are you so sure that over the thousands of years these civilizations existed, nobody ever made a boat trip across the atlantic?

            When two cultures interact it tends to leave a distinct mark in the archaeological record. People write about it, they talk about it, there's artifacts of foreign origin, and so on. The Akkadians wrote about contacts with the Indus valley civilization, and sure enough, they had Indus artifacts. During the Second Intermediate Period, Egyptians and Minoans were very friendly with one another: we know about it because they wrote about it and there are Egyptian artifacts in Crete and Cretan artifacts and buildi

            • by Weedlekin (836313)

              "AFAIK there were no literate societies in South America prior to European contact"

              There were several literate South American societies, most (but not all) of whom used pictograms. A non-exhaustive list of known written languages is:

              Aztec
              Maya
              Mixtec
              Zapotec

              • That's funny, I thought the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec all lived in North and Central America? I was assuming that since we were talking coca any proposed contact would be between South Americans and Egyptians because to the best of my knowledge coca is only found in S.A. (I don't know for a fact, I'm making a pseudo-educated guess) I'm very well aware of the existence of Native American writing systems- just not of any South American ones (excepting the quipu but since we don't even know how they wor
                • by Weedlekin (836313)

                  "That's funny, I thought the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec all lived in North and Central America?"

                  Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec are languages or language groups, not peoples, so they weren't only spoken / written by the people or in the region that _we've_ decided to name them after (nobody knows what their original names were, or for that matter, if they had a name). It should also be noted that the Mayas were present in Panama, which was also home to South American people such as the Chibchas, and

          • There are a few reasons that lead to believe that Egypt was not really an exploring nation with a big transatlantic trade concept.

            First, it was an incredibly conservative society. Can you imagine art not changing for a millenium? Or writing? Could you credibly say you could read anything written before 1200? Hell, a lot of people have trouble understanding the basic concept of what Shakespeare tried to express, and he ain't THAT far removed. That's what stabilized them for so long, but that's also what made

        • by lawpoop (604919)

          I.E. remains of plants in the tombs, records of their growth, examples in tomb or temple paintings, surviving examples, etc. etc.)

          If they got hold of coca and/or tobacco as trade items ( i.e. bundled, dried leaves ), there's no reason to think they would have grown them or drawn pictures of them. I'm sure you've encountered a number of tobacco products in your life. Do you know what a tobacco plant looks like? Most people don't. Images of plants tend to be somewhat ambiguous, anyway.

          Regardless of the veracity of the quote, it does say that tobacco remnants were found int he abdominal cavity of a mummy.

          Anywho, the typical archaeol

          • I.E. remains of plants in the tombs, records of their growth, examples in tomb or temple paintings, surviving examples, etc. etc.)

            If they got hold of coca and/or tobacco as trade items ( i.e. bundled, dried leaves ), there's no reason to think they would have grown them or drawn pictures of them.

            Quite the contrary - given the Egyptian's habits there is every reason to believe there would be pictures or drawings or some other account of the trade and consumption of the items. If they were used often enough

            • by lawpoop (604919)

              Quite the contrary - given the Egyptian's habits there is every reason to believe there would be pictures or drawings or some other account of the trade and consumption of the items. If they were used often enough for chemical traces to show up in the mummies, there's every reason to believe they would have been included in their grave goods.

              Show me some hieroglyphics of some common, everyday plants that Egyptians grew and ate, on a daily basis. Show the distinguishing features in the hieroglyphs that allow to you botanically identify the plants ( we likely aren't going to identify coca or tobacco by any name Egyptians may have given it. )

              Or to put it bluntly, for chemical traces to be present with no other evidence, and given the proclivity of the Egyptians to record and track their daily doings, and given the proclivity of the Egyptians to put things used in daily life into their tombs... the absence of things with regards to New World plants is very, very suspicious.

              Show me some hieroglyphics of Egyptians going to the bathroom or having sex. If there aren't any, I think it's highly suspicious that they engaged in either activity.

              • Hint #1 - The Egyptians created images as well as describing them in text.
                Hint #2 - We have archeological evidence of Egyptian sanitary practices, and their sexual practices should be obvious.

                In other words, you're willing to make wild claims without knowing shit about archeology or evaluating archeological evidence. - and now insist I teach you. Fuck off.

      • by nobody69 (116149)

        The drug testing results are not as clear as what they may seem though.

        Related plants can leave chemical traces that are close enough to give false positives, especially for a test that isn't designed to distinguish between them. Tobacco is part of the nightshade family, so related Old World plants might give a false positive. Mandrake can also leave similar chemical (iirc alkaloid) traces to those of cocaine.

    • "Autopsies performed on the remains of mummies show that they had cocaine alkaloids in their system, which means that the ancient Egyptians traveled to South America and back"

      FTFY

      In other words, part of South America might have traveled to Africa, no?

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        Occam's Razor suggests the simplest explanation would be that somehow seeds for these plants reached north Africa and the Egyptians began cultivating them. Meaning it is much more likely that a South American vessel made it to Africa than an African vessel made a round trip to South America and back. Also doesn't mean that the owners of the seeds survived the journey; if I was a member of an agrarian society found an obviously man-made (or perhaps god-made) package containing seeds washed up on my beach, pr
        • by tompaulco (629533)
          Well, is it not also possible that the plants now found only in the Americas may once have existed in Egypt and died out when the climate changed (which it has significantly in the last few thousand years).
          • by Locke2005 (849178)
            It is certainly possible that close relatives of the American plants once grew in Africa, and that now they have either become extinct or rare enough that they are uncatalogged. But after tens of thousands of years of independent existence, they would probably be classified as different species. As a bad analogy, North America had Equines and Camelids related to Asian horses and camels that went extinct (along with many other species) over 10,000 years ago. Human harvesting of these plants in the wild could
            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by wrfelts (950027)

              But I believe if the Egyptians were smart enough to use these plants for recreational use , then they should have been smart enough to cultivate them as well...

              "Dude, I think I smoked the last plant... ...bummer"

              • by Locke2005 (849178)
                Perhaps I am overestimating the rationality of the ancient Egyptians. After all, I have often wondered, "What the hell was the Easter Islander that cut down that last tree thinking?!?"
            • by Weedlekin (836313)

              "Human harvesting of these plants in the wild could even have been a contributing factor to their extinction. But I believe if the Egyptians were smart enough to use these plants for recreational use, then they should have been smart enough to cultivate them as well"

              I presume you mean that they were smarter than the Romans, whose recreational use of the European lion in their arenas was an important factor in its extinction.

        • If you can figure out how to grow coca anywhere but the Andes, you could be very wealthy.
      • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @04:40PM (#26893033) Homepage Journal

        Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?

    • Re:Mummy question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @01:37PM (#26889485)

      Well, the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Thor_Heyerdahl) believed that it was possible for the ancient Egyptians to sail to South America. He built a raft out of papyrus reeds and had a couple of goes at it, himself.

      Whether the ancient Egyptians actually undertook such a journey, and came back with their luggage stuffed with cocaine, is a matter for pure speculation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dkleinsc (563838)

        He more than had a "couple of goes at it": on his second attempt he succeeded in traveling from Morocco to Barbados.

      • by maxume (22995)

        Perhaps South America is Atlantis, and it merely disappeared into the depths of history.

    • Their Mummy was a crack ho?

      I heard they would do anything for a 20-rock!

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Well, there's only one way to really interpret that - or rather several ways which result in the same basic idea holding true. It does not necessarily mean that Egyptians were there; it could also mean that they traded with North America.

      Remember, the Egyptian trade routes were extensive. It's been acknowledged within the scientific community that they traded with the Far East. If some of the legends hold any credence (Plato's Atlantis), then it is likely there was also a substantial sea trade route at the

  • Great. Now that we've been desensitized by hacked road signs warning about phony zombie attacks, no one is going to believe it when the signs say "IRRADIATED MUMMIES AHEAD! RUN!"
  • I can just see the headline here next year: Cloning mummy DNA impossible because we doused it with too much radiation
  • by DigitalDreg (206095) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @02:14PM (#26890185)

    Every once in a while I read something that I just can't believe, and I have to run to Wikipedia to do some background reading. Synchrotron radiation was one of those things for me ...

    It makes my day job seem trivial.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      You should try working at one of those things. It gives you an appreciation for, say, the LHC being so difficult to get running properly.

      As an experimenter, I got to work 18-hour/day shifts for a week in a very loud environment where false alarms go off frequently and the equipment often simply stops working. The results were very cool, though.

    • by dargaud (518470)
      I work next door to the Synchrotron facility of Grenoble, in another lab. That device is so popular that it runs 24/7, with experimenters coming from all over the world to use it for the widest range of uses: crystallography, analysis of paintings, palimpsests, archeology datation, detection of faults in materials... The uses are endless and the people who get a go at it sleep in the bowels of the machine for days or even weeks when they get a time slot.
  • I make it a habit to break every statue I find past level 5.
    • by smaerd (954708)
      Force bolt works pretty well for that.
      Good source of spellbooks.
      Although I always read them before BUC testing them and end up blind... and then eaten.

"Success covers a multitude of blunders." -- George Bernard Shaw

Working...