An Ancient Fetal Mummy

There’s a popular misconception that high mortality rates made life cheap in the ancient world, particularly where children, infants, and the unborn were concerned.

The evidence, however, doesn’t support this. Mummified fetuses have been discovered before, most notably in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Ancient Egyptians clearly regarded the unborn as human life to be mourned, properly cared for, and prepared for the journey to the next world.

Swansea University (Wales) has a small sarcophagus which long has been regarded as a probable fake. Although it’s painted with great care in a style suggesting a date in 7th century BC, the inscriptions are meaningless. This suggested to some (incorrectly) that it was a 19th century forgery.

In fact, gibberish inscriptions are not unknown, since the hieroglyphs were needed for ritual reasons, but the makers were probably illiterate.

An inconclusive x-ray in the 1990s seemed to show nothing inside. A new CT scan, however, reveals that the sarcophagus does in fact contain a fetal mummy.

The entire case was filled with long strips of folded material, presumably linen bandages, and within that a darker area about 10cm long appeared to be a foetus (in foetal position still within a placental sac) and what looked like a femur.

“The length of the femur together with the size of the dark patch is consistent with that of a 12-16 week old foetus” explained curator Carolyn Graves-Brown.

Another dark patch in the scan suggests an amulet and there are several areas with circles resembling strings of beads or tassels.

A fetus of 12 to 16 weeks can legally be aborted in America. In ancient Egypt, it was treated with reverence as a human life destined for an afterlife.


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