Archaeologists Discover World’s First Pregnant Ancient Egyptian Mummy

Archaeologists from the Warsaw Mummy Project in Warsaw, Poland, have discovered the first known case of a pregnant ancient Egyptian Mummy.

The astounding discovery came as a surprise. The mummy they initially thought was an Egyptian priest named Hor-Djehuty was revealed to be a woman. On top of that, images revealed what seems to be a tiny foot at the abdominal part of the mummy.

According to Marzena Ożarek-Szilke, anthropologist and archaeologist from the University of Warsaw Faculty of Archaeology, they were already at the stage of summarizing the project and sending the publication to print. “With my husband Stanisław, an archaeologist of Egypt, we had the last look at the images and noticed a familiar image for parents expecting children in the deceased woman’s abdomen: a tiny foot,” she added.

Right: X-ray of the mummy’s abdomen showing the fetus (Ejsmond et al., J. Archaeol. Sci., 2021)

Detailed analyses of the mummy’s tomographic and x-ray images revealed the whole fetus, confirming that the woman had been about 26-28 weeks pregnant when she was mummified.

“For unknown reasons, the fetus had not been removed from the abdomen during mummification,” said Dr. Wojciech Ejsmond from the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures PAS.

Mysteries surround this ancient mummy even before it was found to be pregnant. According to Science Alert, the mummy, along with its sarcophagus, was donated to the University of Warsaw in 1826 and was kept in the National Museum of Warsaw since 1917.

It was initially thought to be a woman because of its elaborate sarcophagus and delicate facial features on the cartonnage. But then in the 1920s, archaeologists translated the name on the coffin, doubting their original perception of the mummy’s gender.

Photo courtesy of Olek Leydo (Warsaw Mummy Project)

The translation read, “Scribe, priest of Horus-Thoth worshiped as a visiting deity in the Mount of Djeme, royal governor of the town of Petmiten, Hor-Djehuty, justified by voice, son of Padiamonemipet and lady of a house Tanetmin,” revealing that the mummy was Hor-Djehuti, a Theban priest and official.

It wasn’t until the Warsaw Mummy Project started in late 2015 that computer tomography revealed that the mummy has female breasts and a female pelvis, and no male reproductive organ, casting theories that the mummy may not actually be Hor-Djehuti. How this happened could be traced back to the 19th century when mummies weren’t given the best care and it could be that a different mummy was placed into the sarcophagus, which was originally made for a male mummy.

Photo courtesy of Warsaw Mummy Project

While there was no way to know the identity of the female mummy, archaeologists find answers through pieces of evidence surrounding the mummy’s current state.

The findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on April 28, 2021, states that the ancient mummy excavated from the royal tombs in Thebes, Upper Egypt, and is said to be a member of the elite and has passed away about 2,000 years ago.

Her cause of death is still unclear, but the scientists are trying to unravel it by analyzing the soft tissues of the mummy which contains traces of blood that could hopefully lead them in the right direction.

“High mortality during pregnancy and childbirth in those times is not a secret. Therefore, we believe that pregnancy could somehow contribute to the death of the young woman.” Dr. Ejsmond said.

Being the first pregnant mummy to ever be discovered opens up a lot of possibilities for further studies. It may shed light on pregnancy during ancient times, and the interpretations of pregnancy in the context of Egyptian religion.

SOURCES: Science Alert, Journal of Achaeological Science, Warsaw Mummy Project 

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