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Watch: 3D imaging reveals the ancient lives of Egyptian animal mummies

The three mummified animals showcased in this video—a cat, a snake, and a bird—remained shrouded in bandages, and mystery, for more than 2000 years. But a new 3D look inside is revealing deeper insights into how they lived and died.

Scientists utilized so-called microcomputer tomography (micro-CT) scanning, which creates 3D images by merging thousands of 2D x-ray projections from different angles. Micro-CT provides up to 100 times higher resolution than a typical medical CT scan, meaning the researchers could zoom in to uncover much finer details without damaging the delicate specimens.

The feline mummy appears to belong to an Egyptian domestic cat—younger than 5 months old, according to the presence of baby teeth, the team concludes today in Scientific Reports. An unhealed fracture below the jaw suggests the cat’s neck was broken either at or just after the time of death—possibly to keep the head upright during mummification. (All of the animals were believed to have been votive offerings, meaning they were sacrificed to the gods.)

The bird is most likely a Eurasian kestrel, with a damaged beak and left leg, the researchers report. However, the leg was found sticking out from its wrappings, so this may have occurred sometime after its death.

The snake is a young Egyptian cobra, coiled into a tight bundle. It was likely killed by a spinal fracture, which the team suspects occurred during a “whipping” procedure, in which the animals were held by the tail while their heads were beaten against the ground. Damage to the kidneys indicates the snake was dehydrated at the time of its death, highlighting the poor conditions in which it was kept. The researchers also identified resin placed inside the snake’s open jaw. Possibly, this formed part of the “opening of the mouth” procedure, performed so dead humans and animals could breath, speak, and eat in the afterlife.