A team of archaeologists announces that they have identified the world’s first known pregnant mummy. The woman is believed to have died around the age of 25, around seven months pregnant. Details of the study are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The remains, kept at the University of Warsaw (Poland) since 1826, have recently been the subject of in-depth analyzes. X-rays and CT scans of the mummy revealed that the remains inside belonged to a young woman who died around the age of 20 to 30 in the first century BC. This was a real surprise for researchers, as the inscriptions on the sarcophagus indicated that the remains belonged to a priest named Hor-Djehuty.
A fetus inside
Second surprise, and not the least, this woman was pregnant at the time of her death. Skeletons of pregnant women have already been found in the past, but a mummy with preserved soft tissue is a first. Based on the head circumference of the fetus, whose sex is undetermined, the researchers estimated that this young mother was 6.5 to 7.5 months pregnant.
We don’t know his name. On the other hand, his social status was visibly high, as evidenced by the care of the embalming technique and the few amulets found in his coffin.
The scans also highlighted several mummified organs – likely the lungs, liver, stomach, intestines and heart – inside the mummy. All were extracted, embalmed, then placed back inside the abdominal cavity (customary practice in ancient Egypt).
Several unanswered questions
The fetus, on the other hand, would have been left as is. Researchers still do not know why. The baby, they suggest, could have been considered “still an integral part of his mother’s body, since he was not yet born“.
Second hypothesis put forward: the difficulty of extracting a fetus of this age because of the thickness and hardness of the uterus. The embalmers could thus have deemed it preferable to leave the baby in his mother’s womb, at the risk of damaging both bodies.
It is not known why this young woman and her baby died. “The high mortality during pregnancy and childbirth at this time is no secret“, However emphasizes Wojciech Ejsmond, who led this work. “Therefore, we believe that the pregnancy could in one way or another have contributed to their death.“. The team now hopes to analyze small blood samples kept in the mummy’s soft tissue to try to determine it.
Finally, archaeologists also do not know why this mummy was inside a man’s coffin, but this is not a first. According to the authors, up to 10% of mummies could be in the wrong coffin due to the numerous looting carried out in recent centuries.