CT scans have revealed the inner contents of an Egyptian mummy to be that of a stillborn human baby, not as the mummified hawk it was once believed to be.
Bioarchaeologist Andrew Nelson, from Canada’s Western University, along with the UK’s Maidstone Museum and Nikon Metrology UK, conducted ‘micro-CT’ scans on the mummy—a technique that is said to produce the highest resolution—to get images of the tiny fetus without opening the cartonnage, according to LiveScience.
Cartonnage refers to the layers of papyrus or linen that encase the mummy. It was this cartonnage, along with the small stature and bird-like decorations, that led archaeologists to believe the mummy to be that of a votive hawk.
The micro-CT scans revealed a stillborn male at 23 to 28 weeks of gestation with a severely malformed skull—indicative of a condition called anencephaly.
Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The whole top part of his skull isn’t formed,” Andrew Nelson said.
“The arches of the vertebrae of his spine haven’t closed. His earbones are at the back of his head,” Nelson added.
It is only the second known case of an anencephalic mummy; the first one was discovered in 1826.
The significance of this finding is whether mummification took place because fetuses were believed to have some power as talismans, according to Nelson.
“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,” Nelson said.
The 2,100-year-old mummy was donated to the Maidstone Museum in 1925 in the United Kingdom by a local physician.
Credit: Western University via GeoBeats