The examination of an ancient Egyptian mummy in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw has revealed the world's first known case of a pregnant embalmed body.
The discovery that the mummy, which was at first believed to be the body of the priest Hor-Djehuti, was actually a female, occurred in 2016, but now new research by a Polish team of scientists has revealed that the woman in the bandages was pregnant.
"We were about to conclude the project... when my husband Stanisław, an Egyptian archaeologist, looked at the x-ray images and saw in the deceased woman's womb... a little foot," Marzena Ozarek-Szilke, an anthropologist and archaeologist from Warsaw University told Polish Press Agency (PAP).
The mummy was subjected to several sets of tomographic scans, X-rays and a three-dimensional visualisation which allowed a closer examination of the entire fetus which established that the woman was in the 26-28th week of pregnancy. Researchers have not yet determined the gender of the fetus.
"For unknown reasons, the fetus was not removed from the abdomen of the deceased during mummification. That's why this mummy is really special," said Wojciech Ejsmond from the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
"This means that 'our' mummy is the only one, so far recognised in the world, with a fetus in the womb," Ejsmond added.
Earlier analyses with a tomographic scan had suggested the mummy was female and not that of the priest despite the coffin carrying his name, said Ozarek-Szilke. More detailed analyses convinced scientists that it was indeed a woman under the bandages.
The researchers performed a three-dimensional reconstruction of the body of the dead woman. This was possible without unwrapping the mummy by using tomographic technology. The obtained 3D images clearly showed long, curly hair flowing down to her shoulders and mummified breasts.
The researchers have not been able to determine the cause of death yet. It is known that the woman who died was about 20-30 years old.
Ozarek-Szilke said that the tissues contain traces of the deceased woman's blood. As part of the next stage of the project, scientists want to analyse its composition. Thanks to this, it may be possible to find out the cause of death because certain toxins indicative of specific diseases can be detected even today, she added.