How Did the Baby Carry a 2000-Year-Old Pregnant Mummy Pickle While Her Bones Didn’t Melt?
Scientists working on mummified remains in Egypt recently made a major discovery: The mummy they thought was a man was actually a woman, or even a pregnant woman. No one had ever seen a fetus in a mummified body before the Warsaw Mummy Project analyzed the remains.
Wojciech Ejsmond, who led the study, said in a statement, “Women of reproductive age were getting pregnant, perhaps constantly, every few years. So why was there no evidence that women who died pregnant were mummified?” He said it always seemed strange to him.
Skeletons containing fetuses never showed up in X-ray scans. Chi X-rays are the usual way to detect a developing baby in this type of situation. This required scientists to develop a technology that did not search for bones. “The radiologists were looking for bones, and our case shows that you really shouldn’t be doing that. “You have to look for soft tissue that has a unique shape,” he said.
In the study, published Dec. 30 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers gave a hypothesis as to why the fetus didn’t show up from the scans. Essentially the cause had to do with acidification.
“This can be likened to an experiment with eggs,” Ejsmond said. You put an egg in acid, its shell melts and only the inside of the egg remains.” said. “When the acid evaporates, you have an experiment with an egg inside that is just covered with minerals,” he said. Something similar probably happened in the mummy’s body. The acidification kind of caused the baby to pickle.
As the body decomposes, it naturally begins to acidify. “Formic acid comes out in the blood, which makes the environment in the body more acidic,” Ejsmond said. When this acidic environment reached the dead fetus, almost all of the bones dissolved. The scientists hypothesized that the remnants of the chemical reaction, a group of minerals, dispersed into the water remaining in the womb. This made the small body nearly invisible to X-ray scanners.
So why didn’t your mother’s bones unravel?
Because during mummification, the body is covered with natron salt to dry the body. The drying process holds the minerals in place so the bones can still be seen, Ejsmond said. So far, the mummy studied by the Warsaw Mummy Project is the only mummy believed to have been mummified while pregnant.
“However, further research may show that this is more common than we thought,” Ejsmond said. Now we know what to look for,” he said.