What archaeologists and scientists thought at first was a mummified Egyptian bird has actually turned out to be the mummified remains of a 2,100-year-old stillborn human baby, something only recently brought to light after high-resolution micro-CT scanning was conducted on the mummy.
The mummy had been found with a label affixed to it that read “A mummified hawk with linen and cartonnage, Ptolemaic period (323 BC – 30 BC),” giving scientists the shock of their lives when they discovered the truth inside, as Popular Mechanics reported.
In fact, the stillborn baby may never have been detected if Western University researchers hadn’t started scanning Ta-Kush, a 2,300-year-old mummy from the Maidstone Museum.
It had been decided that if Ta-Kush was going to be scanned, it would be a good idea to scan other mummies and artifacts from the museum as well, which is when researchers alighted on the tiny coffin and decided to look into the mummified bird that was inside of it.
After CT scanning had been conducted, Western University anthropologist Andrew Nelson determined that the mummified remains actually belonged to a stillborn male infant who was somewhere between 23 to 28 weeks of age at that time he was stillborn, according to Gizmodo.
Sadly, it was discovered that the infant had anencephaly, which is a medical condition that causes the skull and brain of individuals to grow abnormally.
As researchers examined the mummy closely, they observed that while the infant’s toes and fingers had grown as they should, the baby’s skull had failed to develop properly along with its vertebrae. The fetus was also missing crucial bones in his skull, according to a statement issued by Nelson.
“In this individual, this part of the skull never formed and there probably was no real brain.”
The discovery of the mummified stillborn baby has turned out to be extremely rare, as researchers have only come across around six stillborn babies that were mummified by ancient Egyptians. Further, this is only the second mummy that has ever been found to suffer from anencephaly.
Researchers are fascinated by the thought that the Egyptian family of this stillborn baby had him mummified, something that would have been a rarity at the time.
“As an anthropologist I’m interested in what that means culturally. But certainly fetuses had a role in magic in ancient Egypt, and so there may have been an aspect of that in play here. 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. So this was a very special individual.”
While it may never be known if the stillborn baby thought to be a hawk was mummified by Egyptians as a magical talisman or whether he was mummified as the result of the normal outpouring of grief from his family, it is a mystery that will continue to intrigue scientists.