Researchers studying an ancient Egyptian mummy thought they were looking at the body of a male priest. Instead, they were shocked to discover that the body was in fact a woman – who was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.
According to a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science, X-rays and computer tests have finally revealed the true identity of the mummy, showing the fetus’ small arms and legs. Researchers in Poland say this is the first and only known case of a well-preserved mummified pregnant woman.
The mummy dates from the first century BC and is believed to have come from royal tombs at Thebes in Upper Egypt. He first arrived in Warsaw in 1
An inscription on the coffin states that it is a male priest named Hor-Jehuti – and no other research shows otherwise. However, mummies often do not match their coffins due to mixtures during robberies.
“Our first surprise was that he didn’t have a penis, but instead had breasts and long hair, and then we found out she was pregnant,” Marchena Ozarek-Schilke, an anthropologist and archaeologist, told the Associated Press. “When we saw the little leg and then the little hand, we were really shocked.”
Researchers believe the woman was between 20 and 30 years old when she died. The size of the baby’s skull suggests that she is 26 to 28 weeks pregnant. The cause of death is unknown.
The woman was very carefully mummified, wrapped in cloth and buried with many amulets, which suggested a high social status. It was buried with other objects, but researchers say the tomb was partially looted in the 1800s.
The superior quality of embalming suggests that it could actually have been performed long before the first century BC.
“First of all, it is unknown who she was,” researchers write. “Her mummy is a wonderful example of ancient Egyptian embalming skills, suggesting her high social status.”
The pattern sheds new light on ancient burial customs around pregnancy. Researchers say the mummy is expanding opportunities for pregnancy and burial research related to motherhood in ancient times.
“This is our most important and significant discovery so far, a complete surprise,” team member Wojciech Eysmond of the Polish Academy of Sciences told the AP. “It opens up opportunities for learning about pregnancy and treating complications in antiquity.”