Polish researchers examining an ancient Egyptian mummy they thought to be a male priest were shocked when their scans revealed that it was a mummy of a pregnant woman. Researchers at the Warsaw Mummy Project who made the discovery said this is the world’s first known case of a pregnant mummy.
The Warsaw Mummy Project, which was started in 2015, uses technology to examine artefacts including human and animal mummies from Ancient Egypt that are being held at the National Museum in Warsaw. The researchers, having originally believed the mummy was a male priest, found out it was a mummy of a pregnant woman after noticing a tiny foot in the abdomen on a scan.
After using CT scans and X-rays, the team now believe the mummy is a woman who had been seven months pregnant. They estimate that the fetus was between 26 and 30 weeks when the mother died for unknown reasons. Aged between 20 and 30, researchers believe she died during the 1st Century BC.
“Our first surprise was that it has no penis, but instead it has breasts and long hair, and then we found out that it’s a pregnant woman,” archaeologist Marzena Ozarek-Szilke told the Associated Press. “When we saw the little foot and then the little hand (of the fetus), we were really shocked.”
“This is our most important and most significant finding so far, a total surprise,” team member Wojciech Ejsmond of the Polish Academy of Sciences said.
The team also found four bundles, believed to be wrapped and embalmed organs, within the mummy’s abdominal cavity. Curiously, the fetus had not been removed from the uterus. Scientists are still wondering why internal organs were removed before mummification but the fetus was not touched. “We don’t know why it was left there. Maybe there was a religious reason. Maybe they thought the unborn child didn’t have a soul or that it would be safer in the next world. Or maybe it was because it was very difficult to remove a child at that stage from the womb without causing serious damage,” Ejsmond told CNN.
Currently, researchers from the mummy project are describing the woman as the Mysterious Lady of the National Museum in Warsaw as her background remains uncertain.
The mummified remains were first donated to the University of Warsaw in 1826. The donor claimed that the mummy was found in royal tombs in Thebes, but Ejsmond said it was quite common for donors at the time “to provide false provenance to archaeologists to increase their value and significance because it looked better, so we should be very careful about such statements.”
“There is no grounds to confirm it,” Ejsmond said.
When the mummy was brought to Warsaw in 1826, the inscription on the coffin made experts believe that the mummy inside was that of a male priest named Hor-Djehuti. But realizing it is female, scientists now believe the mummy may have been placed in the wrong coffin by antiquity dealers during the 19th Century when tombs were robbed, precious items were stolen and bodies were replaced.
The pregnant mummy was wrapped in fabrics and was entombed with about 15 items including amulets that represent the four sons of Horus, the ancient Egyptian god of kingship and the sky. Researchers from the mummy project believe the woman had “high social standing” as she had been “carefully mummified”. Their next step is to establish the woman’s cause of death, they said.