A tiny Egyptian mummy was misidentified in the U.K.’s Maidstone Museum and, in 2016, was discovered to actually be that of a near-term, severely malformed human fetus. (Western University)

Ancient Egyptian mummy is not a hawk, but a malformed human fetus

What likely is the highest-resolution scan ever conducted on a fetal mummy reveals it to be that of a human male and not a hawk, as was originally thought, according to researchers at Western University.

Detailed micro-CT scans reveal what a news release calls a family tragedy that occurred two millennia ago. The fetus would have been stillborn at 23 to 28 weeks of gestation with a rare condition called anencephaly in which the brain and skull fail to develop properly.

The stillborn boy may have been mummified because the ‘fetus had a role in magic in ancient Egypt,’ said mummy expert Andrew Nelson.

Brain appears to be lacking

“The whole top part of his skull isn’t formed. The arches of the vertebrae of his spine haven’t closed. His earbones are at the back of his head,” said mummy expert Andrew Nelson of Western University in a news release.

There are no bones to shape the broad roof and sides of the skull, where the brain would ordinarily grow. “In this individual, this part of the vault never formed and there probably was no real brain,” he added.

Clues revealed about maternal diet, customs

Anencephaly can be caused by a lack of folic acid which is found in green vegetables. Nelson suggested the fetus may have been mummified because fetuses were believed to have some power as talismans in ancient Egypt.

Many researchers were involved in the analysis of the mummy including specialists in Egyptology, radiology, anatomy, neonatology and urology from Western University, England, France and Cairo.

Western University video
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