A TINY mummy once thought to be a bird is actually a “severely malformed” human foetus.
The 2,100-year-old mystery mummy was displayed at Kent’s Mainstone Museum – but had been misidentified due to its tiny size.
Now advances scanning techniques have revealed that it’s actually a mummy of a stillborn child.
It’s believed that the mummy is a human male, who died at 23 to 28 weeks of gestation.
Tragically, the foetus was severely malformed, with significant spinal abnormalities – and a skull and brain that failed to develop correctly.
“On the basis of the highest resolution scan of a foetal mummy ever made, we’ve been able to determine this individual was severely anencephalic,” said Andrew Nelson, of Canada’s Western University, who helped uncover the mystery.
The bioarchaeologist added: “It would have been a stillbirth. It would not have lived through birth.”
Curators at the museum had stored the foetus with animal mummies due to its small size.
And the funerary case even had a hawk face painted on, which is believed to have been a reference to the falcon-headed god Horus.
Initial images of the mummy revealed arms folded across the chest – indicating that it wasn’t a bird.
But researchers still suspected that the mummy may have been a small monkey.
“It was very difficult to see what was going on from these clinical CT scans, because it’s a very small object and the resolution is not that great,” Nelson explained.
“What we needed were better-resolution scans and more experts.”
Experts then conducted a micro-CT scan, which provides high-resolution imagery.
Sadly, this revealed a stillborn foetus that – in the absence of tragedy – would’ve been just weeks from birth.
The fact that the foetus was mummified also means that the child was likely held in high regard.
“It would have been a tragic moment for the family to lose their infant and to give birth to a very strange-looking foetus, not a normal-looking foetus at all,” Nelson said.
“The family’s response was to mummify this individual, which was very rare.
“In ancient Egypt, foetuses tended to be buried in pots, below house floors, in various ways.
“There are only about six or eight known to have been mummified. So this was a very special individual.”
According to experts, the top part of the skull wasn’t formed, and his ear bones were at the back of his head.
And the arches of the vertebrae in the spine hadn’t closed.
Scans also revealed a cleft palate and cleft lip.
It’s believed that the malformations were due to the anencephaly, caused by the mother’s diet.
The condition can be caused by a lack of folic acid, which is normally found in dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
Some suspect ancient Egyptians believed foetuses could ward off evil, which may explain why the stillborn child was mummified.
In other archaeology news, an ancient decapitated skeleton buried in an kneeling position has been discovered in central China.
Analysis of a medieval mass grave has confirmed that the 48 individuals died during the Black Death in the UK.
And, ancient dinosaur fossils have led scientists to pinpoint “the most dangerous place in the history of planet Earth”.
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