Canterbury Christ Church University and Maidstone Museum have been investigating a skull reputedly found at a local prehistoric site, to uncover more information about the person.

The story of how and why this research is being undertaken and the results that emerge will be included in the museum’s new archaeology gallery, ‘Lives In Our Landscape’, due to open in early summer next year.

As part of the investigations, the skull was CT-scanned at Maidstone Hospital, part of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW NHS). The scan was undertaken after patient hours had closed in the Nuclear Medicine department, generously accommodated by the medical team who gave their time voluntarily.

The skull was scanned at very high resolution to create a 3D dataset, recording the shape and internal structure. The data will be used by FaceLab, at Liverpool John Moores University, to recreate the appearance of this person. Visitors to the new gallery will be able to look into the face of someone who lived perhaps around 6000 years ago.

James Elliott, an archaeologist and Senior Lecturer in Diagnostic Radiography
James Elliott, an archaeologist and Senior Lecturer in Diagnostic Radiography

James Elliott, an archaeologist and Senior Lecturer in Diagnostic Radiography, has been researching this area and the use of medical imaging in archaeology, blending the two together to learn about the past.

The Diagnostic Radiography teaching staff have previously assisted Maidstone Museum with James Elliott and Dr Paul Lockwood contributing towards an investigation of their resident 2,700 year-old Egyptian mummy Ta Kush. Using the CT imaging conducted at KIMS Hospital (Bearsted) they assessed the head and face for preservation, trauma and disease. James also led the CT-scan of an ancient mummified Egyptian head from Canterbury Museums and Galleries, revealing its hidden history.

I shall be eagerly anticipating results from other tests on the skull to learn more about this individual. This is a great example of medical imaging being used to learn about our past and inform the general public and an excellent case study for archaeology, heritage, forensics and the application of radiography. The use of CT to analyse the skull provides a valuable opportunity to learn about the individual whilst creating a permanent record for future analysis and research.

James Elliott, an archaeologist and Senior Lecturer in Diagnostic Radiography.

As a non-destructive and non-invasive test, the team were able to visualise the internal structure of the bone and assess for abnormalities. Shortly after performing the scan, they noticed an area of bone change within the front portion of the skull (known as the frontal bone). A rounded portion of the bone demonstrated different densities suggestive of abnormal growth, most likely a benign rather than sinister growth. Interestingly, this abnormality was only visible by using the CT scan, there was no indication through visual inspection.

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