Monday, May 12, 2014
News: The mummified FOETUS: Scans reveal tiny ancient Egyptian sarcophagus contains the remains of a 16-week-old embryo
For more than 40 years, mystery has surrounded a tiny mummy that lay among exhibits at an Egypt centre in Wales. Experts were so baffled by its unusually small size and its delicate design that some even suggested it was a fake, created in the 19th century.
Now CT scans have revealed not only is the case a genuine Egyptian artefact, it contains the rare remains of a mummified foetus thought to have been just 12 weeks into development when it died.
The 20-inch (52cm) mummy is part of the Wellcome collection at Swansea University’s Egypt Centre and is thought to date back to the 26th Dynasty - around 600BC.
On 28 April, Swansea University’s Paola Griffiths from the Clinical Imaging College of Medicine analysed the artefacts using a CT scanner. This revealed the majority of the interior of the case is taken up by folded strips of material, thought to be linen bandages.
Within these bandages is a darker area, about 3-inches (10cm) long, that the researchers claim is a foetus, in the foetal position with the placental sac. Experts also identified what could be the foetus' femur. The length of the femur, together with the size of the dark patch, is consistent with that of a foetus 12 to 16 weeks into development, continued the researchers.
Another dark patch suggests an amulet was also placed in the case, and and there are several areas with dark circles resembling strings of beads or tassels.
The Egypt Centre said it was not unusual for strings of beads to be placed loose in mummy wrappings of this date. The mummy, officially known as W1013, arrived in Wales in 1971, but nothing is known about how Henry Wellcome acquired it.
The mummy is made of cartonnage - layers of linen stiffened with glue - and is shown wearing a yellow and blue striped wig and wide collar. This, coupled with its red face, suggests it belongs to a male as was customary for mummies of that time.
The body is decorated with a pattern of rhombus shapes perhaps imitating the bead net typically placed over some other mummies. It has also been suggested this pattern is reminiscent of feathers, or even the stars of the night sky.
The researchers said it is carefully, although not over elaborately, painted and features inscriptions on the front and back. But experts who have tried to decipher these inscriptions said they are meaningless and for decades, many people believed it was a fake.
In 1998, Singleton hospital X-rayed the cartonnage case but the results came back inconclusive, further fuelling these claims.
‘In contrast to the usual practice in the west today, it seems that the foetus could often be treated with care in ancient Egypt,’ explained Carolyn Graves-Brown from Swansea University.
‘For example, two coffins holding foetuses were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and in New Kingdom - c.1550-1070BC- Deir el-Medina, a part of the Eastern cemetery seems to have been set aside for child burials, but also foetuses and even placentas in bloody cloths.
‘The placenta was believed to represent the twin of the self and so was disposed of with care too.’ ‘We can imagine that the probable foetus within W1013 represents someone’s terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public mourning.’