X-ray examination of the ancient Egyptian Hor-Djehuti mummy, kept in the National Museum in Warsaw, showed that the embalmed body belonged to a pregnant woman, and not a man, as previously thought. This find is the first known case of mummification of a pregnant woman.
The practice of mummification in Ancient Egypt originated in the pre-dynastic period and gradually became widespread, which allows us to make new discoveries even today. At the same time, many already known objects in museum collections have not been closely studied even for tens and hundreds of years.
The National Museum of Warsaw houses a collection of ancient Egyptian mummies, which was previously extremely poorly studied. The mummy Hor-Djehuti, donated back in 1826 to the University of Warsaw by Jan Wężyk-Rudzki, was in this position, but in 2015 a large-scale study began within the framework of the Warsaw Mummy project.
A team of scientists conducted research on previously little-studied exhibits and, in particular, the mummy of Hor-Djehuti was of special interest.
10 things you need to know about the first Egyptian pregnant mummy in history
1. Scientists began with the dating and origin of the mummy itself. Comparison of mummification technologies, inscriptions on the coffin and lid, the presence of some artifacts indicated that the coffin and lid were probably made in the 1st century BC.
2. According to the inscriptions, they belonged to a high-ranking official from Thebes. Archaeologists suggested that the likely place of burial was the temple of Amenhotep, and not the royal tombs of Thebes or the pyramid of Cheops, as many predecessors believed.
3. X-rays of the mummy showed that the coffin and lid were made for a different person, and not for the mummy donated to the university.
4. For a long time, the sex of the mummy was defined as male, including in a study conducted in the 1990s. However, data obtained using modern methods indicated that it was a female.
5. X-ray examination of the mummy showed that the body as a whole was very well preserved, despite the fact that it was partially damaged, probably from robbers.
6. Soft tissues, including internal organs (eg, tongue), dried out, and the brain was removed through the nasal cavity. The cranial cavity was filled with an embalming agent. The eyes, nose, and mouth were left blank. The arms, legs, and torso were individually wrapped in at least 10 layers of bandages. The bandages on the upper chest were modeled after a woman’s breast, with small, round objects to simulate nipples.
7. Although the Egyptian pregnant mummy was robbed, several artifacts remained intact, including mummy-shaped amulets – the so-called “Four Sons of Horus”, as well as an extremely rare artifact above the navel in the form of a textile ring.
8. This allowed scientists to conclude that the body belonged to a woman of high status who lived in the 1st century BC. The gender of the individual was confirmed by the presence of the fetus, breast, and female genital organs visible on CT scans.
9. The fetus was mummified with its mother, but not removed. Its head circumference is 25 centimeters, which allowed researchers to estimate its age at 26-30 weeks. Scientists drew attention to the fact that the fetus was not removed from the uterus, as was the case with the heart, lungs, and other organs, but found it difficult to find the reason for this.
10. They suggested that perhaps the afterlife of the fetus could, in the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, happen only if it went there as part of his mother. On the other hand, the embalmers may not have made this fear of damaging the baby or its mother’s body.
This find is the only known example of an Egyptian pregnant mummy, as is the first X-ray image of such a fetus. This mummy, according to archaeologists, will open up new possibilities for studying pregnancy in antiquity, including in the context of burial beliefs and practices.
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• Ejsmond, W., Ożarek-Szilke, M., Jaworski, M., & Szilke, S. (2021, April 28). A pregnant ancient Egyptian MUMMY from the 1st century BC.
• Morrison, R. (2021, April 29). World’s first PREGNANT ancient Egyptian mummy has been discovered.
• Robinson, M. (n.d.). World’s first pregnant Egyptian mummy uncovered in Warsaw.
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