Ancient Egyptian bird mummy turns out to be human

Ancient Egyptian bird mummy turns out to be human

Ancient Egyptian bird mummy turns out to be human

A group of UK-based researchers discovered the remains of a stillborn human fetus with an unusual condition in a 2,100-year-old Egyptian mummy long thought to be that of a hawk.

The mummy of an ancient bird was found at the Maidstone Museum in the United Kingdom. Its funerary casement featured a gilt-painted hawk’s face and was just the right size for a bird.

Horus, the Egyptian falcon-headed god, was also mentioned in the hieroglyphics on it.

All these decorations combined with the common practice of animal mummification in ancient Egypt led to the misidentification of the mummy.

Ancient Egyptian bird mummy turns out to be human
Archaeologists long suspected that a tiny 2,100-year-old Egyptian mummy contained the remains of a hawk.A new analysis of the tiny mummy shows it was not a bird beneath the wrappings, but a stillborn human fetus

As a result, it was stored with other animal mummies without conducting CT scans or special attention.

However, the error came to light when the museum decided to scan their resident female mummy as well as a bunch of other animal mummies kept in storage including “EA 493 — Mummified Hawk Ptolemaic Period.”

The images of the scan revealed arms crossed over the chest and suggested that there was something else inside — a human or maybe a monkey — but not a bird for sure.

They called bioarchaeologist Andrew Nelson from Western University, London, to take a closer look.

Nelson and his interdisciplinary team conducted high-resolution micro-CT scans to virtually unwrap the mummy and found that it contains a severely malformed male human fetus, stillborn between 23 and 28 weeks of gestation.

The fetus, as the researchers revealed, suffered from major spinal abnormalities and a rare birth condition called anencephaly, wherein the brain and the skull fail to develop properly.

While the images revealed the mummified fetus had well-formed toes and fingers, the skull bore severe signs of deformities. “The whole top part of his skull isn’t formed,” Nelson said in a statement, noting that the brain of the fetus would not have formed in that scenario.

“The arches of the vertebrae of his spine haven’t closed. His earbones are at the back of his head.”

The work, as the researchers said, makes it the second mummified fetus to have been identified with anencephaly as well as the most studied fetal mummy in history.

“The family’s response was to mummify this individual, which was very rare. In ancient Egypt, fetuses tended to be buried in pots, below house floors, in various ways,” Nelson added.

According to Western University bioarchaeologist Andrew Nelson, there are only about six to eight known fetal mummies from ancient Egypt, making this family’s response very rare. The rarity of this mummification suggests it may have ties to ancient Egyptian magic

“There are only about six or eight known to have been mummified. So this was a very special individual.”

The findings also provide important clues into the diet of the baby’s mother and hint at a lack of foods containing folic acid, which plays a critical role in the development of the neural tube and can lead to anencephaly, if not provided sufficiently.

“It would have been a tragic moment for the family to lose their infant and to give birth to a very strange-looking fetus, not a normal-looking fetus at all,” the researcher concluded.