Yesterday I had a real treat - I helped some colleagues x-ray an Egyptian mummy!!!! I went to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, which has a huge x-ray machine that can handle large objects (my x-ray cabinet at work has a maximum object size of c. 40x50 cm).
I was there mostly to observe the process, but also to help work out the parameters for each x-ray - Dave at the museum usually x-rays metal objects, whereas I specialise in human bones. It was quite a challenge at first though, as I am used to x-raying single bones, not an entire body complete with preserved soft tissue and packing materials surrounded a beautifully arranged bandage. I was able to look at our x-rays to work out what features we could see - the skeleton was clearly a male, and a fairly young adult, probably in his 20s when he died.
I've never worked with mummified remains before, so being in the same room (without glass cabinets) was a real treat, and by the end of the afternoon I was helping move the mummy, and to help support it while we took x-rays from the side - this was using an very 'high-tech' combination of bubblewrap surrounded by acid free tissue paper, a pair of lab stools and blocks of special foam used by museum curators to package delicate objects! Despite working in archaeology for about 15 years I still get a thrill when I touch really old objects, and even though I had to wear gloves at all times, to protect the mummy, this was one of (if not THE) most exciting thing I've ever handled.
We worked until after 6pm, and I didn't leave to go home until after we had put the mummy back in it's crate ready for transportation back to the museum later this week. I'm still tired this morning, but I really wish I could skip work today and help x-ray the second mummy.... sadly I have to meet my students this morning, otherwise the University wouldn't see me for dust...