Archaeologists Discover World’s First Pregnant Ancient Egyptian Mummy
A 2,000-year-old mummy first discovered almost 200 years ago has been revealed to be the world’s first ancient Egyptian mummified pregnant woman.
Archaeologists at Warsaw University made the finding thanks to new 3D imaging scans, which revealed that the woman was carrying a foetus between 26-30 weeks old.
The mummy, which has been on display at the National Museum in Warsaw since it was first discovered in a tomb in Thebes, Egypt in the early 1800s, dates back to the time of Cleopatra in 1st Century BC.
Initially believed to be the body of an ancient Egyptian priest named Hor-Djehuti, the mummy was only revealed to be a woman in 2016, when tomographic scans revealed the lack of a penis. Now, more than four years later, more advanced digital imagery has led to an even more surprising discovery.
Speaking to the Polish Press Agency, archaeologist and anthropologist Marzena Ozarek-Szilke said, ‘We were about to conclude the project when my husband Stanislaw, an Egyptian archaeologist, looked at the x-ray images and saw in the deceased woman’s womb a little foot.’
Using images taken from CT scans, the team was able to identify a fully preserved body in the mummy’s uterus, with the size of the foetus’s head giving them a rough estimate of how far along the mother was when she died. The mummy itself is believed to have been between 20 and 30 years of age, and was discovered in the Valley of the Kings with a range of amulets that suggest she may have been an important figure of her time.
Whereas major organs like the brain, heart and intestines were typically removed during mummifications, the archaeologists have no clear explanation for why the foetus was left in place.
In a study of the pregnant mummy published in the Journal of Archaeological Scientists, the team writes:
This specimen sheds a light on an unresearched aspect of ancient Egyptian burial customs and interpretations of pregnancy in the context of ancient Egyptian religion.
For Egyptologists, this is a fascinating discovery because we know little about perinatal health and childhood in ancient Egypt
The study goes on to suggest that the foetus may have been considered too young to navigate its own way to the afterlife, and that ‘it may have been thought to be still an integral part of the body of its mother, since it was not yet born’.
There are currently limited techniques for examining pregnant mummified bodies, however the archaeologists are hopeful that this discovery could provide ‘a new possibility for studying pregnancy in ancient times’.
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