‘Bird mummy’ mystery – solved


There is the cartonage that’s decorated to look like a bird and they would expect it to be a bird. But then when they were able to cut into the actual mummy through virtually unwrapping it so to speak, they’re able to see that that’s certainly no bird. That’s a human fetus. What was very difficult to see what was going on from these clinical CT scans because it’s a very small object – the resolution’s not that great so what we really needed was better resolution scans and we needed more experts. So we were able to take it to the Nikon facility in the UK and get a micro CT scan which is a very, very high resolution scan and then I started to build a team of people to look at the scans to see if we could figure out what was going on. And we were able to determine that it’s male that it’s 23 to 28 weeks old and on the basis of really I think the highest resolution scan of a fetal mummy ever made we’ve been able to determine that it was severely anencephalic and a stillbirth. So then as an anthropologist I’m interested in what does that mean culturally. We’re not sure – we don’t know a lot about its original context but certainly fetuses have a role in magic in ancient Egypt and so there may have been a aspect of that in play here. But certainly would have been a tragic moment for the family to lose their infant and to give birth to a fetus of very strange looking, not a normal-looking fetus at all. And so the family response was to mummify this individual which was very rare in ancient Egypt. There are only about six or eight that are known to actually have been mummified so this was a very special individual indeed.

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