My interest in human and animal mummification began whilst studying for a BSc in Archaeology at the University of York where I completed my dissertation on the animal collection from Bolton Museum and Art Gallery. This involved hand-developing the images in the departmental broom cupboard during a particularly warm British summer! In 2001, I gained an MSc in Biomedical and Forensic Egyptology at the KNH Centre, the University of Manchester, concentrating on the Manchester Museum collection, using the sophisticated clinical imaging suite at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
I was awarded my PhD in 2008 with a thesis investigating four major museum collections using clinical imaging techniques. My thesis was published as a BAR Report in 2010.
In June 2010, I began work as a Research Associate on the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank Project which aims to increase our knowledge and awareness of mummified animals in museum collections. To date, the Bio Bank holds records for 960 animal mummies held in 59 museum collections (54 in the UK, 2 in the US and 2 in Europe), including radiograhic analysis of 400 animal mummies which have been radiographed by the Manchester team.
In September 2010, the project was awarded funding from the Leverhulme Research Project Award (RPG-2013-143) under the title 'An Investigation of Ancient Animal Mummies using Diagnostic Radiographic Imaging'. Work continues on the application of clinical and industrial imaging techniques to the study of ancient mummified animal material and also the use of experiential techniques to replicate ancient mummification methods. One distinct research theme is how accurately we can identifiy animals to species level using radiography alone from wrapped animal mummies. A range of experimental mummies have been produced blind (using unknown species) to test this theory.
I am particularly keen to improve the relationship between academia and cultural institutions, helping to foster positive relationships through which museum collections can be investigated, interpreted and displayed.
My research focuses on the use of non-invasive radiographic techniques to study mummified animal remains from ancient Egypt. Mummies are generally wrapped in linen bandages and it is often impossible to see what the bundles contain simply by examining them visually. The use of radiographic techniques such as X-ray and CT scanning, enables us to see what the bundles contain without disturbing the integrity of the bundle and causing irreparable damage. As techniques improve, the quality of images we can acquire also improves and we are able to gather more and more information about the animals and the way they lived, died, and were treated at the hands of the embalmers.
I am particularly interested in how 3D visualisation and printing technologies can be applied to the study of archaeological artefacts. Engaging the public with academic research and improving our knowledge of museum collections remain key factors behind my research.
My research applies non-invasive radiographic methods to the study of ancient Egyptian mummified animal material. Museum collections from around the world are studied using clinical X-ray and CT (clinical and industrial) to comprehensively investigate mummified artefacts. Often radiography alone is not sufficient to positively identify skeletal elements within wrapped bundles, so a programme of experimental mummification is underway to attempt to improve these techniques and to assess the efficacy of various mummifcation techniques. Preliminary results have shown that industrial imaging techniques (namely Micro-CT), coupled with increased visualisation made possible using advanced computer software and 3D replication technology can highlight features sufficiently to enable identifications to be made. This has led to the development of a revised classification system for animal mummies (McKnight and Atherton-Woolham 2014).
The research has had enormous public engagement impact, culminating in the curation of a touring exhibition entitled 'Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed' which opened at Manchester Museum in October 2015. The exhibition then enjoyed five months at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, and it will close at World Museum Liverpool, in February 2017. The exhibition won the CityLife 2015 Award for Best Exhibition and a Making a Difference Award for Oustanding Public Engagement Initiative for the programme of associated events. The research has been covered in numerous media outlets and formed the basis of a documentary filmed for BBC2's Horizon which aired in May 2015.
Analysis of mummy samples has been conducted in collaboration with the Archaeological Science Department at the University of Bradford to investigate the ingredients used in mummification (Brettell et al. 2015). A collaboration with the Design School at Loughborough University is investigating the potential of 3D visualisation and printing technologies to virtually 'remove' bones and anomalies from within wrapped bundles to aid interpretation and identification (McKnight et al. 2015).
I am currently working towards HEA accreditation.