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Teaching archaeology students

The value of radiography and CT in archaeology.

3D reconstruction of Ta Kush, the Maidstone Museum Egyptian mummy, using computed tomography data. Such reconstructions are of benefit to museums because they can convey findings of medical imaging better than the original data (CT slices).

Today I spent a few hours talking to a very interesting group of third year archaeology students for their Death and Burial in Archaeology module at Canterbury Christ Church University. The session was focused upon the application of radiography and computed tomography in archaeology, using imaging to learn about the deceased.

With Dr Ellie Williams in attendance, we covered a wide range of concepts including how x-rays are produced, their advantages and limitations as a research method. I laboured the point that radiography produces a 2D representation of a 3D object, and the imaging can be distorted depending on radiographic technique or exposure factors. I'm not sure if I went into too much detail and should have explored some case studies of radiography/CT in archaeology further. I shall learn from the experience as much as the students.

Whilst CT is excellent in demonstrating internal structures of specimens the cost and access to such equipment limits it use, and therefore we tend to see mummies being scanned more often (as they are invariably treated as prized possessions by museums). CT also creates vast quantities of data which can be difficult to handle and interpret. At present I do not have access to a CT scanner for research, although I use one clinically within Nuclear Medicine at Maidstone Hospital (Kent, UK).

The session was split into two; theory with case studies (well some at least), and then a practical session in the x-ray room. We didn't spend too long in the x-ray room, but I really wanted to show the students the equipment and the process of imaging. Some of the students have been to see the equipment before, with Dana Goodburn-Brown, and there were others with specific interests in mummy imaging. As soon as we were finished I raced across the campus to my own lectures in teacher training! I had begun the day by giving an introductory talk to prospective students for the BSc Diagnostic Radiography course, so all in all it was an eclectic day.

Image: Ta Kush 3D reconstruction. With permission from Maidstone Museums.

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