For the first time, a mummified Egyptian woman was found pregnant

A special finding that can provide more information about how Egyptians perceived pregnancy.

Using modern imaging techniques, the researchers took a closer look at the Egyptian mummy, which has been in the Warsaw National Museum for decades. The result is a spectacular discovery. Researchers show that under the wraps you will find the body of a young woman who was pregnant at the time of death. This is a unique finding, the researchers said in the journal Journal of Archaeological Science. Researchers have never before found a pregnant woman carefully embalmed and mummified by the Egyptians.

A few surprises
The mummy repeatedly surprised the scientist during the study. For example, before the investigation – based on the coffin in which the mummy lay, see the box below – it was assumed that a man was hiding under the lid. But CT showed that she was really a woman; the scans clearly showed the breasts and female genitalia.

But the discovery of the fetus was, of course, truly startling, as was seen on CT. The fetus is mummified with the mother and is still completely intact in the womb. The latter is quite strange, scientists note. The Egyptians were accustomed to removing large organs from the body of the deceased – such as the heart, lungs, liver, intestines and stomach. And based on that, you can expect them to also take the unborn baby out of the womb. Especially since stillborn babies were found in Egypt who were mummified independently of their mothers. It is not clear why they decided to leave this baby in the womb. “The baby could have been considered an integral part of the mother because it was not yet born,” the scientists speculate. They point out that the child did not yet have a name, and therefore perhaps in the eyes of the ancient Egyptians he was not yet an individual and therefore could not enter into the following as such. Another possibility is that the Egyptians left the baby in the womb for practical reasons. “It is very difficult to remove a 26- to 30-week-old fetus from the uterus because the uterus is still very stiff,” the researchers write.

The researchers were able to measure the circumference of the fetal head. And on this basis, they were able to estimate gestational age. Researchers think the woman was between the 26th and 30th week of pregnancy.

The mummy
The mummy that scientists write about in their research article – along with a coffin and funeral mask – was donated to Warsaw University in the nineteenth century. The generous donor announced that the mummy came from the royal tombs in Thebes. It is difficult to determine whether this is indeed the case. In 1917 or 1918, the mummy became the property of the Warsaw National Museum, where it is to this day. It is now clear that the coffin in which the mummy was presented to the museum does not in fact belong to the mummy (after all, the coffin depicted a completely different deceased person than it was hidden under the lid). This is not too surprising; many illegal excavations took place in the nineteenth century, and it was not uncommon for mummies to be placed in other boxes to sell more expensive. Moreover, in ancient Egypt, it was not uncommon for coffins – sometimes in the same family – to be reused. Overall, it often happens that the ancient Egyptian man lies in a coffin that does not actually belong to him. The disadvantage is that the coffin cannot be used to identify and date the deceased. The pregnant mummy could not be dated from the coffin either. But by analyzing the mummification techniques and amulets used to rest the deceased, scientists can still tell approximately when the pregnant woman was alive. Namely somewhere in the last century BC.

Analysis of a woman’s teeth further suggests that she herself was between 20 and 30 years old. It’s not clear who the woman was. But the fact that she was carefully mummified and also acquired the necessary amulets suggests that she had a high social status.

the cause of death
It is not clear why the woman died. It is certainly inconceivable that her death is related to pregnancy. As researchers write, many women today still die each year during and shortly after pregnancy (in 2017, the World Health Organization estimated that there were no less than 295,000). In ancient times – when this woman was alive – mortality among expectant or new mothers must have been much higher. It may be possible to investigate further the causes of death in the future. The researchers rightly point out that, thanks to the use of modern imaging techniques, the current study has had no impact on the mummy, and is therefore still intact and therefore extremely suitable for future research using perhaps even more advanced research methods.

For the time being, scientists are very satisfied with these (preliminary) findings. Because the discovery of a pregnant mummy is extremely valuable. Pictures and texts have been found in Egypt in the past to tell more about pregnancies and births, but this mummy allows scientists to learn more about how pregnancies and births were treated in ancient times. And that doesn’t have to end there. For example, a finding may shed light on something that has not yet been explored. Namely, the way in which people in ancient Egypt viewed unborn children and the funeral ritual that translated.

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