24 Jan. () –
CT scans have allowed “digitally unwrap” the approximately 2,300-year-old intact mummy of a high socioeconomic Egyptian teenager.
the body was equipped with 49 amulets of 21 different typesmany of them made of gold, which had been carefully placed on or inside the body.
Among them there were a two-fingered amulet next to the uncircumcised penis, a heart-shaped gold beetle placed inside the chest cavity and a gold tongue inside the mouth. He was dressed in sandals and garlands of ferns, of ritual significance. This mummy is a sample of Egyptian beliefs about death and the afterlife during the Ptolemaic period, say the researchers in the journal ‘Frontiers in Medicine’.
The ancient Egyptians believed that when we died, our spiritual body sought an afterlife similar to that of this world. But entry into this afterlife was not guaranteed: it first required a perilous journey through the underworld, followed by an individual final judgment. For this reason, relatives and embalmers did everything possible so that their loved one reached a happy destination.
In this case, Egyptian scientists used computed tomography (CT) to “digitally unwrap” the mummy intact and never opened of a 2,300-year-old adolescent with a high socioeconomic level.
They discovered that this ‘golden boy’ is an intact showcase of ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife. For example, he was sent with no less than 49 amulets of 21 types to promote his bodily resurrection. He wore sandals and garlands of ferns, rich in ritual significance.
These results provide unique insight into mummification procedures and beliefs about the importance of funerary ornaments during the Ptolemaic period, the researchers note.
“Here we show that the body of this mummy was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylized in a unique three-column arrangement between the folds of the wrappings and within the mummy’s body cavity —explains in Frontiers Dr. Sahar Saleem, first author of the study and professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Cairo (Egypt)–. These include the Eye of Horus, the scarab, the akhet amulet of the horizon, the afterbirth, the Knot of Isis and others. Many were made of gold, others of semi-precious stones, baked clay or earthenware and their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife”.
The mummy of the ‘golden boy’ was found in 1916 in a burial ground used approximately between 332 and 30 BC at Nag el-Hassay in southern Egypt. It has been stored unexamined in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo until the present study.
The mummy was deposited inside two coffins, an exterior one with a Greek inscription and another wooden interior. Within it was a golden mask for the head, a pectoral carton covering the front of the torso, and a pair of sandals. Other than her heart, the viscera had been removed through an incision, while the brain had been removed through the nose and replaced by resin.
“The sandals were probably used so that the child could walk out of the coffin. According to the Egyptian ritual of the Book of the Dead, the deceased had to wear white sandals to be pious and clean before reciting his verses,” Saleem explains.
Scans showed the boy was 128 centimeters tall, uncircumcised and had no known cause of death other than natural. Based on the degree of bone fusion and the absence of eruption of the wisdom teeth, the authors estimate that the boy was between 14 and 15 years old. His teeth were in good condition, with no evidence of caries, tooth loss, or periodontal disease.
Around the outer surface of the mummy was a garland of ferns. “The ancient Egyptians were fascinated by plants and flowers and believed that they had sacred and symbolic effects. Bouquets of plants and flowers were placed next to the deceased at the time of burial: this was done, for example, with the mummies of kings of the New Kingdom Ahmose, Amenhotep I and Ramses the Great. Plants were also offered to the deceased in each visit to the dead during the holidaysSaleem explains.
The amulets are testament to a wide range of Egyptian beliefs. For example, a golden tongue blade was placed inside the mouth to ensure the child could speak in the afterlife, while a two-fingered amulet was placed next to the penis to protect the embalming incision.
An Isis knot invoked the power of Isis to protect the body, a right-angled amulet brought balance and leveling, and the double plumes of falcon and ostrich represented the duality of spiritual and material life. A golden beetle was found inside the chest cavity, of which the researchers 3D printed a copy.
“The heart beetle is mentioned in chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead: it was important in the afterlife during the trial of the deceased and the weighing of the heart against the feather of the goddess Maat. The heart beetle silenced the heart on Judgment Day, so that it would not bear witness against the deceased. It was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to replace the heart if the body ran out of this organ,” says Saleem.
In view of these results, the management of the Egyptian Museum decided to move the mummy to the main exhibition hall with the nickname ‘Golden Child’. In its new location, visitors can admire the mummy alongside CT scans and a 3D-printed version of the heart scarab amulet, to get as close as possible to the glories of the ancient Egyptian civilization.