Unraveling a Mummy Chook Thriller


Closeup of an ibis - a large, long-legged black-and-white bird with a heavy, curved bill, spreads its wings as it wades through water
African Sacred Ibis by Mike Marin/Macaulay Library.

Over the past a number of months, a sure  chicken, believed to be an African Sacred Ibis, has been drawing plenty of consideration and masking plenty of floor at Cornell College—from the School of Arts and Sciences to the School of Veterinary Drugs, School of Engineering, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Not dangerous for an animal that has been useless and mummified for greater than 1,500 years.

The so-called “mummy chicken” has had assist getting round. Carol Anne Barsody, a grasp’s scholar in archaeology, has been concerned in a number of totally different features of analysis that took the chicken to varied locations on campus as she tried to study all the pieces she may in regards to the artifact—a part of the Cornell College Anthropology Collections.

“One of many issues I like about this mission is that it incorporates experience from throughout Cornell, all working collectively on a typical purpose,” Barsody stated.

The mother chicken’s actual provenance is tough to find out. Ever for the reason that late 1800s, mummies of various styles and sizes and species have discovered their approach to Cornell. Its bodily look —a tear-shaped swaddle of linen, barely bigger than a soccer—reveals little or no, and no file exists of the mum’s arrival on the college, in all probability a century or extra in the past. Since then, it has moved amongst numerous college collections, saved inside a field mislabeled “hawk mummy.”

Barsody herself discovered a novel path to the mission. She first got here to the college not as a scholar, however as an worker, with a background in arithmetic, working for the Heart for Know-how Licensing. Then she entered the college’s worker diploma program and obtained full tuition to pursue a grasp’s diploma in archaeology.

Her major analysis curiosity is the methods know-how might be built-in inside museum exhibitions and the way that may change museum accumulating practices, entry to collections, and assist with repatriation efforts. The mother chicken made for an efficient case research. So Barsody got down to discover collaborators who may use Twenty first-century know-how to assist her peek below the mum’s wrappings with out disturbing the integrity of the artifact.

Four people wearing gloves and masks attach scanning equipment to a brown bundle containing a mummified ibis.
A Cornell College effort to check a mummified chicken from historical Egypt advanced right into a cross-college collaboration, together with (left to proper) anthropology collections curator Frederic Gleach, archaeology masters scholar Carol Anne Barsody, laptop engineering undergraduate Jack Defay, and electrical and laptop engineering lecturer Hunter Adams. Photograph by Ryan Younger/Cornell College.

In November, Barsody and Frederic Gleach, curator of the Cornell Anthropology Collections, introduced the mum to the Cornell School of Veterinary Drugs, the place an imaging technician performed radiographs and a CT scan that confirmed their bundle did the truth is comprise a chicken. Not solely that: The CT scan confirmed that among the chicken’s gentle tissue and feathers had been nonetheless intact.

Hoping to study extra about their chicken’s organic and physiological traits, Barsody and Gleach took the mum to Vanya Rohwer, curator of the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates, which is housed on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

black-and-white image showing the neck, head, and long, curved bill of an ibis
Utilizing a CT scan from the Cornell School of Veterinary Drugs, Cornell Museum of Vertebrates curator Vanya Rohwer recognized the mum as an African Sacred Ibis.

After reviewing the scans and consulting a database, Rohwer recognized the chicken as a male African Sacred Ibis, on account of its total physique form and downward sloping invoice. This wasn’t a complete shock, Barsody stated, since ibises had been generally mummified as a consequence of their affiliation with loss of life and Thoth, the god of knowledge and magic. Ibises had been so standard, they had been generally bred en masse for the only real objective of being offered as votives. In keeping with Birds of the World, 1.5 million ibises had been entombed in catacombs at Saqqara, the location of an unlimited necropolis and pyramids on the historical Egyptian capital of Memphis. Sacred ibises had been frequent in Egypt till the early nineteenth century, however they had been virtually fully passed by 1850 and are extirpated from the nation immediately.

Rohwer weighed the mum, which got here in at 942 grams, roughly the identical as a quart of milk. As finest they’ll inform, the chicken is someplace on the order of 1,500 to 2,000 years previous.

“It’s enjoyable to piece this stuff collectively,” Rohwer stated. “It’s a real-life puzzle.”

Probably the most vital piece of that puzzle could grow to be the gentle tissue the CT scan revealed. Barsody is now again on the School of Veterinary Drugs, consulting with Dr. Eric Ledbetter, professor and part chief of ophthalmology, in regards to the prospect of extracting genetic materials by means of endoscopic microsurgery. If the chicken’s DNA matches every other samples from a database of mummified sacred ibises, Barsody ought to have the ability to decide the temple the place it was buried, and thus the age and the area by which it lived.

The subsequent section of Barsody’s mission is much more bold.

“I need to carry the chicken again to life,” she stated.

Barsody is working with Cornell electrical and laptop engineering undergraduate scholar Jack Defay to scan the mum with open-source know-how and smartphones as a way to construct a 3D mannequin of the chicken—a low-cost methodology of artifact digitization. The mother chicken, its 3D mannequin, and a hologram model will all be included in a multisensory exhibition that Barsody is planning to carry at Upson Corridor on the Cornell campus in October.

“The purpose is to gauge the general public’s readiness for exhibitions with out the artifacts,” stated Barsody, who presently works at Cornell’s Johnson Museum of Artwork. “That will get into larger questions on repatriation, institutional accumulating practices, entry, and schooling on this post-COVID world, the place you may not have the ability to really get to a museum.”

All of the whereas, she continues to dig by means of college archives and historic data to study as a lot as she will be able to in regards to the mummy and what it meant to a tradition that thought so extremely of this chicken, they preserved it endlessly.

“Not solely was this as soon as a residing creature that folks of the day could have loved watching stroll by means of the water. It additionally was, and is, one thing sacred, one thing spiritual,” Barsody stated. “Now it has this complete complete lifetime of being studied, and revered, as a small consultant of the wonderful tradition from which it originated. It’s had a number of lives.

“I take a look at what I’m doing as one other type of extending its unbelievable life.” 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here