CAIRO – 26 November 2020: A group of archaeologists discovered a surprise inside the belly of an Egyptian mummy of a girl who was only 5 years old when she died.
It was subjected to high-resolution scans and "fine beams" of x-rays targeting very small areas in the intact ancient mummy.
CT scans of the mummy’s teeth and femur confirmed the age of the girl, although there were no signs of trauma to her bones that could indicate the cause of her death.
In a new study published on the "scince alert" website, which was reported by several agencies, scientists reported that high-intensity targeted X-rays also revealed a mysterious object placed in the child's abdomen.
Scans of the mummy about two decades ago were of low contrast, and it was difficult to see many details, but for the new analysis, the researchers performed new CT scans to fully visualize the mummy’s structure.
Scientists then focused on specific areas using X-ray diffraction, in which a highly focused beam of X-rays bounces off atoms in crystalline structures.
Differences in diffraction patterns reveal the type of material the object is made of, as this is the first time that X-ray diffraction has been used on an intact mummy, says lead author of the study Stuart Stock, professor of cell research and developmental biology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.
The mummy, known as "The Hawara Portrait No. 4 Mummy," is in the collection of the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. It was excavated between 1910 and 1911 from the ancient Egyptian site of Hawara, and dates back to about the first century AD, when Egypt was under Roman rule.
“During the Roman era in Egypt, they began to make mummies with the paintings attached to their front, where several thousand were photographed, but most of the pictures were removed from the mummies we have, maybe only 100 to 150 pictures are still attached to the mummies,” said Stock.
Although the image on Mummy No. 4 showed an adult woman, the mummy’s small size indicates otherwise. The scans confirmed that the mummy was a child, still so young that none of her permanent teeth showed. Her body measures 37 inches (937 mm) from the top of her skull to the soles of her feet, and the sheaths added another 2 inches (50 mm), according to the study.
Researchers also discovered 36 needle-like structures in the case - 11 around the head and neck, 20 near the feet and five at the torso.
X-ray diffraction determined that these were modern wires or metal staples that may have been added to stabilize the artifact sometime during the past century.
Stock suggested that one of the surprising discoveries was an irregular layer of sediment in the mummy casings. The clay may have been used by the attending priests to secure the mummy’s bandages.
Another mysterious discovery was a small oval body about 0.3 inches (7 mm) long, found by the researchers in the mummy coils above the abdomen, and they called the object "embedding F".
X-ray diffraction showed it's made of calcite - but what is it? One possibility is that it could be an amulet involved because the child's body was damaged during embalming, Stoke said.
After this unfortunate incident, priests would often place an amulet like a scarab on the damaged part of the body to protect the person in the afterlife, and the newly discovered calcite "point" was in the right size and in the right position to be a protective Scarab, Stock explained.
However, the resolution of the CT scan was not high enough to show the details carved into the object, so it was impossible to determine what it could have been, he said.