Mummy dearest: Images tell child's history


DRAWING BY DEBORAH DERR McCLINTOCK

Q.  In the hands of imaging experts, what is "mummography" designed to reveal? a) cancer in women? b) other illness? c) the "patient's" age? d) the patient's gender? e) his or her name?

 A. All of the above except a, because unlike mammography, mummography is intended to unlock the secrets harbored by well-preserved ancient mummies, says Stanford Medicine magazine of the University's Medical School.

For instance, a CT scanner at the school was used recently on a 2000-year-old mummified Egyptian child. While early low-resolution scans seemed to indicate that the child, its head drooping forward, had died from a broken neck, better later scans suggest the neck is simply curved, "perhaps because the child's family had stood the mummy up in their home–a common practice among Egyptians of Roman times. After a while the head must have tilted down."

Another goal of the study (still in progress) is to decipher the child's name, written on a plate inside the wrappings. As one museum curator put it, "In a sense the researchers are bringing this particular mummy back to life, which is exactly what the ancient Egyptians wished for."

Q. For new Moms-to-be, what is it about "morning sickness" that isn't? –U. Turner

 A. It isn't something that necessarily hits in the morning, and it isn't a sickness at all because healthy women experience the symptoms and bear healthy babies, say Cornell behavioral ecologist Paul W. Sherman and Samuel M. Flaxman in American Scientist. So it's a complete misnomer, prompting the medical community now to use NVP instead, for "nausea and vomiting of pregnancy."

NVP's likely function is to protect the fetus by causing Mom to expel any dangerous foods and to develop aversions to foods that might contain harmful chemicals, such as alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Plus there's likely protection against food-borne microorganisms and against phytochemicals (natural plant defenses, such as in spices).

Accordingly, some studies have indicated strongest aversions to meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, alcohol and caffeinated beverages, say Sherman and Flaxman; cravings run in the opposite direction, for fruits and fruit juices, sweets, chocolate, desserts and dairy–just naturally keeping the menu closer to baby's needs.

Q. Can you name all the colors of the rainbow? Know Roy G Biv? –R. Bratton

A. That's "Roy" as in Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue- Indigo-Violet of the mnemonic, where the shorter wavelength- higher frequency violet light gets slowed more in water and therefore refracted (bent) more than does red light, say Raymond L. Lee Jr and Alistair B. Fraser in The Rainbow Bridge: Rainbows in Art, Myth, and Science.

But water drops in the atmosphere can vary greatly in size, above 2.5 mm radius rarely, typically .5 mm, .1 for a drizzle. Only a shower with quite large drops can produce a bow with vivid colors, and indeed below a drop radius of about 1/3 mm red falls out of the bow. With small drops, the colors may overlap into a pallid or even white bow. With bigger and bigger drops, bow brightness increases, until at .25-1 mm radius the canonical rainbow colors finally appear: "If you like, you may find seven or more colors. We suspect that most readers will, like us, find at most only six distinct colors–red, orange, yellow, green, blue (or perhaps cyan), and violet–for the .3-mm radius drops. Bigger drops, and blue actually disappears," the authors say.

So Roy G Biv may become someone else instead!

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com.