Late last week, a team of Polish archaeologists from the Warsaw Mummy Project announced that they had discovered the first known pregnant ancient Egyptian mummy.
The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and revealed that the mummy, previously believed to be of a priest named Hor-Djehuty, had turned out to be that of a pregnant woman placed in the wrong coffin.
The woman came from the elite of the ancient Theban community and had been carefully mummified, wrapped in fabric, and equipped with a rich set of amulets found intact within the wrapping. There was some damage to the neck wrappings.
Closer examination revealed that the woman had curly hair and died between 20 and 30 years of age together with the fetus she carried that was between the 26th and 30th week of pregnancy. The cause of the woman’s death has not been determined.
According to Polish archaeologist Marzena Ozarek-Szilke, the fetus was uncovered accidently during a CT-scan examination carried out by the research team on the mummy when a tiny foot appeared in her abdomen.
More research will take place to identify the deceased and the cause of her death, why the fetus was left inside her body, and why it was not removed after death.
Although the discovery made the headlines worldwide, some archaeologists believe that it is not the first of its kind. Egyptologist Zahi Hawass described the discovery as “normal”. He told the Weekly that the discovery of a pregnant mummy was not the first, since the first and oldest such mummy had been unearthed 11 years ago at the workmen’s cemetery on the Giza Plateau.
In 2010, Egyptian archaeologists had also unearthed a 4,600-year-old skeleton of a pregnant dwarf woman, he said.
In 2018, an Italian-American mission working on Aswan’s Kom Ombo project uncovered the grave of a woman and her fetus, whose remains were still in her belly.
The find dated back to more than 3,500 years ago, and the baby’s skeleton was found in his mother pelvic area. The fetus had already settled into a head-down position, hinting at the possibility that both mother and child may have died during childbirth.
Although labour was near, preliminary analysis of the mother’s remains revealed a misalignment in the woman’s pelvis, most likely the result of a fracture that had healed incorrectly.
It is possible that this abnormality caused problems during labour, leading to the pair’s premature death.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly