How did a fetus preserved inside the womb of an Egyptian woman’s mummy survive for more than two thousand years?

revealed New study A team of Polish scientists – published in the Journal of Archaeological Science in this January issue – how an embryo preserved in the womb of an ancient Egyptian woman’s mummy managed to survive for more than two thousand years, to this day, and researchers compared The process of embalming the fetus by the process of “picking an egg”.

The ancient Egyptian woman had died more than two thousand years ago, and her identity and how she died remain two unsolved mysteries. mentioned a report It was published on the Alert Science website that the “Warsaw Mummy Project” revealed the method of preserving the fetus inside the body of the Egyptian mummy.

The research team, led by biological archaeologist Marzina Orek Siselki at the University of Warsaw, said that the uterus remained intact and untouched, and that the fetus was preserved in the form of a “pickle”, explaining that it is not the most aesthetic comparison, but it conveys the idea.

Mysterious Lady Mummy

In April 2021, he revealed,Warsaw mummy project(Warsaw Mummy Project) at the University of Warsaw – launched in 2015 – reported the first known case of a pregnant ancient Egyptian mummy, a first-century BC mummy remains in the National Museum’s collection in Warsaw, brought there in 1826.

Close examination using a CT scan revealed that the woman was between 20-30 years old when she died, and she was 26-30 weeks pregnant. Many questions remained about the woman such as who is she and how did she die? -A little more than two thousand years ago- a mystery to scientists, hence she was known as the “Mysterious Lady”.

Recently, scientists took a closer look at the fetus to find out how it was preserved until the present time, and according to the new study conducted by the “Warsaw Mummy Project” team, the preservation occurred by acidifying the woman’s body during its decomposition.

Fetal volumetric estimation from computed tomography data (Journal of Archaeological Science)

The team explained that the body was “pickled” in an acidic environment. “During the mummification process, the deceased were covered with natron (a natural salt mixture collected from the bottom of dry lakes and used by the ancient Egyptians to dry and disinfect corpses), the team explained. Or a natural soda that was meant to dry out the body. However, the fetus remained in the womb and began to “permeate” in the acidic environment.

“The fetus remained in the womb untouched and began to permeate. It’s not the most aesthetic comparison, but it conveys the idea,” said Wojtgen Ismon of the Polish Academy of Sciences, a scientist with the Warsaw Mummy Project who led the study.

“The pH of blood in cadavers, including the uterine content, drops significantly, becomes more acidic, and concentrations of ammonia and formic acid increase over time,” the researchers added.

According to the research, the ancient Egyptians used to fill the body, fill it and put it in natron, to significantly limit the access of air and oxygen. The end result is a tightly closed uterus that contains the fetus.

The Mummy and the Coffin (National Museum in Warsaw)

big argument

On the other hand, Dr. Sahar Selim, a professor in the Department of Radiology at the Faculty of Medicine, Kasr Al-Ainy / Cairo University, wrote a preliminary comment on the research team’s discovery in a scientific article published in the January issue of the “Journal of Archaeological Science”, and asked a question about whether What they found was indeed a fetus, and she noted that no bones could be detected by mummy scans, so determining the presence of a fetus is uncertain.

“The researchers based the diagnosis on the external appearance of the pelvic mass, which resembles a coiled fetus, but without revealing any anatomical or bone formation,” Saleem said.

She added that “what the researchers thought was a fetus, it might be visceral devices, thick embalming materials, or a calcified tumor in the pelvis,” and called on them to re-conduct the CT scan of the mummy using the appropriate protocol supervised by the radiologists concerned with examining the mummies.

But Orek Siselke and her team argue that this was not unexpected. The bones of the fetus are very weak in minerals during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, which means that they are difficult to detect in the first place after undergoing preservation operations. It is difficult to find the bones of the fetus during archaeological excavations. The team believes that the different shape of the mysterious woman and her fetus is due to the fact that their mummification process took place differently than usual.

CT scan of the fetus in the mummy of the mysterious lady (Warsaw Mummy Project – websites)

egg experiment

Not unlike the natural embalming process that occurs in peat bogs, where the highly acidic environment “pickles” the soft tissues, but removes minerals from the bones.

“The process of demineralizing the bones in an acidic environment can be compared to the experience of an egg,” the scientists wrote. “Imagine placing an egg in a container filled with acid. The eggshell dissolves, leaving only the interior of the egg (albumin and yolk) and minerals from the eggshell dissolved in the acid.”

The reason for the difference between the body of the mysterious lady and the body of the fetus in this regard is that they were mummified differently. The woman was embalmed with natron, and the fetus in her womb was sealed and embalmed in the acidic environment resulting from the chemical reaction.

In addition, minerals leaking from the fetus’s bones may be deposited in the soft tissues of the fetus itself and the surrounding uterus, resulting in a higher than expected mineral content. This means that these tissues will have a higher radiation density in CT scans.

“It may have something to do with beliefs and resurrection in the afterlife. It is still difficult to draw any conclusions because we don’t know if this is the only pregnant mummy. At the moment, it is certainly the only known pregnant Egyptian mummy,” explained Orek Siselke.

The findings suggest that other pregnant mummies may be hiding in plain sight in the museum’s other collections. This research may help archaeologists and anthropologists reveal why the fetus was left intact when the mysterious woman’s other internal organs were removed for mummification.

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