Friday, 20 May 2016

Pseudo Mummies or Mummified Foetuses?

I don't have the answer here but was prompted to write something by the recent interest in a newly discovered foetus mummy in the Fitzwilliam Museum and also one which we have known about for a couple of years from the Egypt Centre in Swansea. Both have been CT scanned to show that they have the remains of a foetus therein. Both are young. The Fitzwilliam one is estimated at 'no more than 18 weeks' and the Egypt Centre one at 12-16 weeks.

W1013. This was first thought to be fake because of its meaningless hieroglyphs and because the X-ray showed no bones
CT scan showing foetus and placental sac


The Egypt Centre example, was at first thought to be a pseudo-mummy, partly on the grounds that the hieroglyphs down the centre are false, and partly because when we had it X-rayed nothing can be seen. The story of it and more detail on the findings are available here.

There are very many pseudo-mummies in museums around the world, and many have been shown by X-rays to contain a few random bones (Piombino-Mascal, et al. 2014), sometimes not human. However, some have been X-rayed, but not CT scanned, and seem to show nothing.

However, with foetal mummies X-rays may very well not show bones (Germer et al 1994). The bones would have been far too small to appear. But, could it be that, like the Egypt Centre example, a CT scan, might show foetal remains.

Pseudo-mummies are often small, no more than 50cm long, and certainly some, as stated above, are fake, in that they may either not contain bones or not be ancient Egyptian. Some of these were made for 18th and 19th century century collectors, looking for mummies to use in medicines or as souvenirs of Egypt. Some may even have been faked in ancient times by unscrupulous embalmers, or even perhaps, by individuals in ancient times wanting a burial for a preterm infant, where the remains were not available.

However, there are projects underway examining 'pseudo-mummies'. For example the Vatican Mummy Project, and work carried out at Manchester. Hopefully, as their work progresses we will have more light on ancient Egyptian burial practices regarding foetal remains, as well as on genuine pseudo-mummies, both ancient Egyptian and more recent.

Further Reading

Germer, R., Kischkewitz, H. L√ľnning, M. 1994. Pseudo-mumien der √§gyptischen Sammlung, Berlin, SAK, 21, 81-94.

Piombino-Mascal, D, Jankauskas, R., Snitkuviene, A. McKnight, L., Longo, M. and Longo, S. 2014 Radiological assessment of two pseudo-mummies from the National Museum of Lithuanaia, JSSEA, 40, 69-77. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284869488_Egyptian_pseudo-mummies (accessed May 2016).

2 comments:

  1. That was exactly what happened with one of the Redpath Museum's ibis mummies (2727.01). Admittedly, pars pro toto use of low density remains (feathers, etc.) in animal mummies (or animal pseudo-mummies, if you prefer) is quite common. The bundle in this case was the size of an adult bird, and the X-ray showed no readily recogniseable ibis remains, and so it had been largely written off as a pseudo-mummy. Close examination of the CT, however, showed a hatchling ibis in the bundle. The scans are part of "Foodstuff placement in ibis mummies and the role of viscera in embalming" (Wade et al., 2012 - JAS 39:1642-1647). That said, there was also a second similar ibis mummy that turned out to be a "pseudo-mummy", in that it contained only feathers and or nest grasses, but at least we could tell that more definitively with the CT.

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    1. Thank you Andrew. We also had similar with CT scannng some of our animal mummies.

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