Scientists Discover World’s First Pregnant Ancient Egyptian Mummy

The ancient Egyptian priest, Hor-Djehuty, was important enough to earn himself a spiffy sarcophagus for his corpse. The only problem for the ancient priest, however, was that he was not the corpse who ended up in his stone coffin. Instead, in 2016, researchers discovered it was a mystery woman. And now the same researchers say ancient Egyptians mummified the woman while she was pregnant.

A team of Polish archaeologists says it has discovered the first-ever pregnant ancient Egyptian mummy, and that the circumstances of her death are quite mysterious.

Warsaw Mummy Project

Researchers at the Warsaw Mummy Project in Poland recently announced the mummy’s new parental status. (Via People.) The ancient Egyptian woman, an elite citizen in the city of Thebes, died somewhere between age 20 and 30. And now there’s evidence that when she did, she had inside of her an approximately 30-week-old fetus.

Whoever mummified the ancient woman did not remove the fetus from her abdomen for some reason, Dr. Wojciech Ejsmond said in a press release. The archaeologist and researcher on the project added that “For this reason, the mummy is really unique… [and] is the only one…so far in the world with a fetus in the womb.”

an x-ray photo of a mummy pregnant woman

Marcin Jaworski / Warsaw Mummy Project

Anthropologist and archaeologist, Marzena Ożarek-Szilke, who, along with Ejsmond and others, outlined the discovery in the Journal of Archaeological Science, says she and her husband stumbled across the mummy’s fetus by accident. “We were already at the stage of summarizing the [mummy analysis] and sending the publication to print,”  Ożarek-Szilke added in the press release. “[W]e had the last look at the images and noticed a familiar image for parents…in the deceased woman’s abdomen, a tiny foot.”

a dark photo of a mummified woman showing a x-ray of her body

Warsaw Mummy Project

In the tomographic X-ray image above, the ancient woman’s fetus is the orange-red blob at center. (Although it’s unclear to us where exactly the fetus’ foot is.) The researchers speculate the fetus itself caused its mother’s death; noting in the press release there was high mortality during pregnancy at this time. But, the researchers acknowledge, other factors may have played into this mysterious woman’s death. Moving forward, they’d like to test blood traces from the mummy for toxins that may have—somehow—invaded her system.

Feature image: Olek Leydo / Warsaw Mummy Project

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