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When Radiology Meets Archeology: The Unveiling of Nefertiti

CT Imaging Reveals Hidden Secrets of Egyptian Sculpture
The Egyptian Queen Nefertiti is nearly as legendary as Cleopatra.   As a female pharaoh, Nefertiti co-ruled Egypt between 1379 and 1358 BC. Her name literally means "a beautiful woman has arrived.-
Using CT imaging to study the antique bust of Nefertiti currently on display at the New Museum in Berlin, researchers have discerned a delicately carved face in its core, per a study published in the April 2009 issue of Radiology (
•We acquired a lot of information on how the bust was manufactured more than 3,300 years ago by the royal sculptor,• said the study's lead author Alexander Huppertz, M.D., director of the Imaging Science Institute in Berlin, Germany. •We learned that the sculpture has two slightly different faces, and we derived from interpretation of the CT images how to prevent damage of this extremely precious art object.•
Considered one of the greatest treasures of ancient Egypt, the bust of Nefertiti was discovered in 1912, during excavation of the studio of famous royal sculptor Thutmose.
Covered in layers of stucco of varying thickness, the Nefertiti bust has a limestone core.  The bust was studied with CT in 1992, but recent advances in CT allowed the researchers to analyze the statue with better resolution. Dr. Huppertz and colleagues used a 64-section spiral CT technique with sub-millimeter section thickness to inspect the bust and provide a 3-D surface reformation of the inner limestone sculpture.
A multi-step process must have been used by the royal sculptor to create the bust.  The imaging shows that a stucco layer on the face and ears is very thin, but the back of the reconstructed crown contains two thick stucco layers.
Even Queens Can Use Retouching
The inner limestone face was delicately chiseled and extraordinarily symmetric.  In contrast to the outer stucco face, the inner face displayed some discrepancies: less depth in the corners of the eyelids, creases around the corner of the mouth and cheeks, less prominent cheekbones, and a slight bump on the ridge of the nose.
Thin-section CT was able to provide detailed imagery of the inner construction and showed the limestone core to be not just a cast, but a skillfully rendered work of art.  Touching up the creases in the corners of the mouth and smoothing the bump on the nose on the outer face may have been the artist's choice and a sign of the aesthetic ideals of that period.
CT findings also may be important in thwarting future damage to the antiquity. Hidden fractures in the shoulders, lower surface of the bust, and rear of the crown indicate fragile areas requiring very careful handling.
Radiologists have long appreciated CT imaging for its use in science, but now can develop its use in art as well.

By Adam Herschkowitz
Get Radiology Jobs, Contributing Editor

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