Creativity comes in many forms. Often inspired by the unlikeliest event or object or place, it can be the start of many a journey. The journey I am about to describe, a four-year long odyssey for Oxford-based artist Angela Palmer, began with the birth of an idea in the vaulted basement of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

It then moved to the Ashmolean Museum's Egyptology department and a mummified body of a little child, to a high-tech scanning unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital, diverted into Egypt to the place where the child was born, and culminated in a decidedly unusual exhibition in a London art gallery.

Angela Palmer's exhibition at Waterhouse & Dodd in Cork Street, called Unravelled, was inspired by the tragedy of that mummified child's death in Egypt almost 2000 years ago.

The mummy was centre stage at the exhibition, on loan from the Ashmolean. By now known to be a boy aged 18 months based on the scans taken at the John Radcliffe, the 74cm-long mummy, wrapped in his bandages and surrounded by his ultra-modern artwork counterparts, looked extraordinarily fragile.

More than 20 of Angela's remarkable works of art were on show, including four Ashmolean Mummy Boy sculptures and Angela's remarkable self portraits.

Both self portraits and the mummy sculptures were produced using the same techniques, built up from layers of non-reflective glass engraved with the results of CT (computed tomography) and MRI scans.

The method, which allows Angela to make artistic representations of the human body stripped of usual recognisable features, produces a strange, ethereal effect. As one moves around the see-through artworks, the subjects appear and disappear, never quite seeming to be there.

But first, back to that basement and that original flash of creativity. Shortly after moving to Oxford in 2000 Angela took her three children to the Museum of the History of Science in Broad Street. There, in the corner of a cabinet was a dusty stack of horizontal sheets of Perspex outlining the contours of the penicillin molecule: the Nobel Laureate Dorothy Hodgkin's 3D model of the structure of penicillin, made in the mid 1940s.

Angela realised that similarly if she drew slices of the head and body on multiple sheets of glass and presented them on a vertical plane, she could create a three-dimensional artwork showing the internal architecture of the human form.

Thus began a series of experiments. Angela gradually developed her technique, producing ingenious human representations from layers of glass engraved with contour lines based on scans. She worked with various scanning units, including UCL on a functionality study of Carol Vorderman's brain, but mostly was herself the subject going in and out of scanning machines from London and Oxford to Aberdeen (out of regular patient hours). She produced a series of extraordinary portraits of her body, supine and crouching, along with several of her skull. One of these gapes monstrously, most are mute, another seems to argue with its fellow. An early full length sculpture was exhibited at the 2005 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

At the time Angela was studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford, before going to the Royal College of Art, London for her Masters degree. Born in Aberdeen and originally studying art at Edinburgh but dropping it in favour of journalism, from which she made a highly successful career, in recent years Angela had found herself being drawn back to art. At the Ruskin, anatomy drawing sealed an interest in medicine already present during her journalistic career although she's no scientist, Angela is quick to insist. It fed a fascination with the interface between science and art that reached its apogee in the Ashmolean Child Mummy series.

Angela takes up the story. "It began one day when someone sent me an article saying the Egyptians were scanning mummies. So, I rather ridiculously, in a mad moment, rang up the Ashmolean and asked to speak to an Egyptologist. I got through to Dr Helen Whitehouse and asked if the Cairo authorities might let me recreate Tutankhamun's head using these techniques. Her answer was No' but then just before we put the phone down she added, We have a child mummy here that we don't know anything about'"

With her radiologist collaborators Dr Stephen Golding and Dr Chris Alvey at the John Radcliffe more than happy to help, things seemed to fall in place. In fact, all the numerous art and science partnerships, between herself and the Ashmolean, the JR, and other centres, were extremely generous, she says.

And when Dr Whitehouse offered the mummy for use in the London exhibition, Angela couldn't believe it. "It was extraordinary. This mummy had survived nearly 2,000 years in a multiple grave. It had been at the Ashmolean since 1888. And now there was this prospect of its going down the M40 into London for my exhibition."

Angela undoubtedly grew fond of this little child in the course of her journey. She recalls the day they took him to the radiography department. "This little boy is loved, you know. The people at the Ashmolean cherish him. As we were leaving I said, don't worry, he's coming back!' Then at the JR wheeling him though the corridors, this little object, a little boy all wrapped up on a trolley. It was like he was my own. It was a momentous day for me"

The mummy dates from the period about 1,900 years ago when Egypt was under Roman rule. In 1888 the British archaeologist Sir W.M.F. Petrie (1853 -1942), one of the founding fathers of archaeology, began work at a site which contained the funerary pyramid and temple of Pharaoh Amenemhet III (reigned 1859-1814 BC). The site is known as Hawara, in the Faiyum depression, a green and fertile region about 40 miles south-west of Cairo. Amenemhet III, one of the most powerful rulers of the 12th Dynasty (1991-1783BC) who constructed vast irrigation and reclamation projects in the region, called the Mer-our (The Great Lake) by the ancient Egyptians, was worshipped and deified after his death. The area around his pyramid became a favoured place for burials, for non-royals as well.

By the time of the boy's birth the area was a multi-cultural society under Roman rule. Its members absorbed each others' customs, especially the funerary beliefs, including traditional pharaonic practices emphasising the preservation of the body for the afterlife.

Not long after starting excavating Petrie found a large 100-acre cemetery at the base of the pyramid, with some of the 12th dynasty tombs re-used. Most famously, he found graves of those who had lived during the three centuries of Roman rule in Egypt. They were not placed in coffins but in multiple burials in chambers or pits in the ground. Their bodies had been mummified in traditional Egyptian fashion, though less carefully, Dr Whitehouse says. Then they were bandaged. Some were given painted portrait masks (two Mummy portraits from the same area are in the Ashmolean's Treasures' display), foot-cases or full-body coverings - but not this boy.

His family chose only to have his mummified body wrapped and bandaged in an elaborate lozenge pattern enhanced by gilded plaster studs (the scans show some have slipped inside the bandages). Dr Whitehouse says its ornamental style is seen on other mummies dated by the portraits on them to the period AD 80-120.

The gold studs in amongst the elaborate bandaging suggest that the boy may have been the son of a nobleman or official. It's a theory Angela is happy to believe.

The exact spot where the boy was found is unknown. Petrie cites it was an area with limestone chippings south-east of the pyramid.

As she became more involved with her project Angela felt compelled to visit the site, and make a film of her trip. She explains, "Over the past two years I'd watched the child's body slowly and intriguingly turn into a three-dimensional shape in my studio. I began to feel an eerie intimacy with the child and wanted - felt compelled - to go to Egypt to visit his burial site."

"And I wanted to bring something tangible back to reunite him with his homeland," she continues. "And all I could think of was sand. I wanted to bring sand back for the little boy."

So she flew out to Cairo armed with large suitcase, an old map drawn up by Petrie and guidance from Helen Whitehouse on where the Roman materials were found. She did not know what to expect or what she might bring back. A local guide accompanied her but also to her surprise and going everywhere with her an armed police escort provided by the Egyptian authorities.

"I think we made quite a good stab at finding his burial place," Angela says. "It was mostly mud bricks, but we found blocks of limestone that led down to a chamber in the area that Helen had suggested."

So, she filled her water bottle with sand to bring back to Britain, and put it next to the mummy. She wanted to keep it just as she had collected it.

The burial site was near Hawara village. Angela filmed the sights and sounds of the village wanting to make some tangible link with the mummy. She focussed on the children who now live there - modern descendants of a community he belonged to during his short life.

"These were boys like he would have grown up to be, running around, playing football, laughing," Angela recalls. "Their facial characteristics were so similar to the mummy portraits."

Dental and cranial evidence suggest the boy was around 18 months old. Although infants did not feature on census lists on papyrus preserved from sites such as Hawara, it is thought that infant mortality rates were high, with possibly no more than a quarter of children surviving beyond their first year.

Ample poignant evidence of this - toys, shoes and clothing found with many burials - comes from the Hawara cemetery. Dr Whitehouse comments that diseases, insects and parasitic worms found wherever there is stagnating water, particularly malaria, were prevalent in this region until the 20th century.

This little boy, however, probably died from lobar pneumonia. The CT scans, which are still being studied by specialists including consultant radiologist Dr Golding at the JR, show he had an inflamed lung consistent with the disease. He also had a hip dysplasia. One leg is visibly shorter than the other in the sculpture. He would have walked with a limp.

Orthodontist Lars Christensen also discovered that the boy was missing his two top side incisors - an unusual condition occurring in only 0.4% of children today.

"So he's quite special for that too." Angela said.

It's easy to understand Angela's feelings. She had lived and breathed this project for years, watching it grow, not on a computer screen but printed off as digital images of the scans - 2,500 slices through the child's body. She had drawn details of them in ink onto sheets of glass in her studio, and placed one glass sheet upon another on a wooden base (cut to support 111 sheets of glass), slowly building it up. Bit by bit the mummy was unravelled' then recreated before her eyes - without any disturbance to him or his bandages.

She describes the experience, "I saw the child eerily emerge. Building up from the top of his skull, and seeing his head emerge, then down through his neck onto his delicate shoulders and thence his torso upon which his slender arms rest - then his tiny fingers emerged, and on down through his pelvis. As his legs took form I became aware of the little fellow's misaligned hips, which was later explained in the medical report. Finally I reached his feet, and with the 111th glass sheet, the very last toe - slightly crooked - punctuated his entire, vulnerable form before me."

"It was then that I began to feel a rather profound closeness to the little boy," she continues. This came as no surprise, nor her being almost overcome with emotion when the mummy was unpacked in the London gallery after its journey from Oxford and placed for the first time beside the artworks it had inspired.

"It caught my breath. He just looked so exquisite. I felt that none of my artwork could possibly have done this child justice. I felt humbled. The people in the gallery were a quite surprised. Big lump in the throat. I know it's sentimental but you can't help thinking this little boy had a mother, and they believed passionately in the afterlife"

Angela is giving a sculpture each to the John Radcliffe Hospital and to the Ashmolean Museum in recognition of their collaboration. They were on offer at the exhibition for £17,500. The Ashmolean's Director, Dr Christopher Brown chose the sculpture made from 111 sheets of glass showing the mummy lying on his back. She will also donate to the Ashmolean the plaster reconstructions of the boy's skull and toes made by Cavendish Imaging, Wimpole Street, London using the latest technology used for surgical reconstructions; and both JR and Ashmolean will get a copy of the video of her trip to the boys' village.

Now, one journey over, what next for Angela, I wondered? Not that there's much time off, one imagines, given the melting pot of her creative mind. She said she's made promises to her teenage children to be more of a mummy' again herself, and then pointed to a "crazy" eight-foot-high Mickey Mouse standing in the corner of her sitting room.

Made between mummy journey's end and working on commissions from the exhibition, she'd built the American icon looking like a target from used cartridges gathered from a shooting gallery. She said she had been "overcome by the mountains of cartridges lying around," and wanted to make a connection between spent cartridges, violence and war. "Having discharged its ammunition, the US has transformed the 'face' of its country into a worldwide target," she explains, adding, "I called it The Law of Unintended Consequences'."

Unintended consequences are pretty familiar to Angela right now, of course: an everyday visit to one museum, an unrelated article leading to a gut instinct phone call to another, and then this extraordinary four year long journey.

Creativity comes in many forms, often inspired by the unlikeliest of events.