Warsaw, Poland – Scientists from Warsaw University last week discovered the Egyptian mummy of a young pregnant woman, the world’s first-ever such case.
After years a research during which scientists performed a total of 250,000 CT scans, the discovery made as part of the Warsaw Mummy Project of Warsaw University – an initiative launched in 2015 to examine human and animal mummies from ancient Egypt – shook the world community last week.
Poland sees world’s first case of pregnant mummy
This mummy, which is believed to come from 1st century BC and hail from the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, “has already changed sex three times, because when she came to Warsaw in 1826, it was originally thought that it was a female mummy,” Dr. Wojtek Ejsmond, an archaeologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences, told local media.
In the 1920s, however, the translation of a hieroglyphic inscription on the sarcophagus suggested it was actually the embalmed body of a man, a 1st century BC priest named Hor-Jehuti. But further research using modern CT scanners and X-ray images eventually revealed that the bandages – which were kept untouched – concealed the body of a pregnant woman.
“When we saw what is in the smaller pelvis, what it looks like and we started to suspect that it might be a fetus, it was really a huge surprise for us, but also a great happiness,” confided Marzena Ozarek-Szilke, coordinator of the Warsaw Mummy Project. “We knew it was unique, that there was no (second) such mummy.”
The findings were published last week in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “This mummy provides new possibilities for pregnancy studies in ancient times, which can be compared with and related to current cases,” the team of Polish scientists writes. “Furthermore, 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.”
A lot of unanswered questions
But the incredible discovery remains shrouded in mystery. The identity of the woman and the cause of her death have not been established, although the quality of her mummification and preliminary data collected by scientists suggest it could have been a rich woman between the age of 20 and 30.
The gender of the fetus, estimated to have been between 26 and 30 weeks old, is still unknown at this point.
Scientists are also baffled as to why the fetus was not removed, as the usual mummification process involves removing internal organs from the chest and abdomen.
“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,” ventured Wojtek Ejsmond.
Further investigation is also needed to determine why the embalmed body of a pregnant woman was encased in a tomb with a priest’s name. “This is one of the most complex matters,” explained Ejsmond. “We know that in ancient times coffins were reused. Sometimes tombs were robbed and stolen so that they could be reused.”