An Egyptian mummy previously believed to be a priest has turned out to be a pregnant woman.
The surprise discovery, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, was made by Polish scientists at the Warsaw Mummy Project.
The team, which, since 2015, has been working to thoroughly examine human and animal mummies from Ancient Egypt at the National Museum in Warsaw, uncovered the body’s true identity after spotting a tiny foot in the abdomen on a scan.
According to Marzena Ożarek-Szilke, anthropologist and archaeologist from the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, she and her colleagues had already summarised their research and were preparing to submit their findings for publication.
She told Polish state news agency PAP: “With my husband Stanisław, an archaeologist of Egypt, we had the last look at the images and noticed a familiar image for parents of three children in the deceased woman’s abdomen: a tiny foot.”
Wojtek Ejsmond, one of the three co-founders of the Warsaw Mummy Project, told CNN the mummy was first brought to Poland in 1826 by Jan Wężyk-Rudzki.
At that time it was believed to be a woman, but the view changed during the 1920s when an inscription on the sarcophagus was translated to reveal the name of an Egyptian priest, Hor-Djehuty.
Though it belongs to the University of Warsaw, the mummy has been on loan to the museum since 1917 where it has been on display.
During the course of its research, the team revealed some interesting clues.
Using computer tomography, which meant the mummy’s bandages did not have to be removed, they found that the body had a delicate skeletal structure.
More detailed analysis convinced the researchers the body was female as there was no sign of a penis.
A 3D visualization of the body clearly showed long, curly hair and mummified breasts, according to the team.
Ejsmond told CNN that the woman is thought to have died aged between 20 and 30 and that the fetus would have been between 26 and 30 weeks gestation.
“We do not know the cause of death — it will be the subject of further investigations,” he said.
One of the biggest questions the scientists have is why the fetus — whose gender has not been determined — remained in place as internal organs were routinely removed prior to mummification.
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