Scientists examining first pregnant Egyptian mummy believe they understand why none have ever been found before
Scientists who registered a pregnant mom have explained why they believe no more have been found.
This could be due to a chemical reaction that dissolves the bones of unborn children.
This makes them almost invisible to x-rays and could mean that other pregnant mummies simply went unnoticed.
Scientists working on mummified remains from Egypt recently made a huge discovery: a set of remains that they believed to be a man were actually a woman and a pregnant woman.
Before the Warsaw Mummy Project analyzed the remains, no one had ever spotted a fetus in a mummified body before.
Wojtek Esjmond, a Warsaw mummy project who led the study, told Insider on Friday that it had always seemed odd.
“Women of childbearing age may not have been constantly pregnant, but every few years they would have been pregnant,” he said. So why was there no evidence that dead pregnant women mummified?
Fetal skeletons – the usual way to spot a developing baby in these kinds of cases – never showed up on x-rays. Scientists had to develop technology that didn’t look for bones.
“Radiologists were looking for bones, and our case shows that in fact you shouldn’t. You should be looking for soft tissue with a unique shape,” he said.
In a letter published Dec. 30 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Scientists, the researchers speculated as to why the fetus might have disappeared from scans. It is basically stripping.
“It’s like an experiment with an egg. You put an egg with an acid, the shell dissolves, leaving only the inside of the egg,” Esjmond said.
“When the acid is evaporated, you have a pot with just an egg coated in minerals,” he said.
Something similar probably happened in the body of the mummy.
As the body breaks down, it begins to acidify naturally. “Formic acid appears in the blood, which makes the body’s environment more acidic,” Esjmond said.
When this acidic environment hit the dead fetus, almost all of the bones dissolved. The remnants of the chemical reaction, a pile of minerals, were dispersed in the water that remained in the uterus, scientists speculated.
This made the small body virtually invisible to x-ray scanners.
“One way to explain it is that [the process] marinated it, basically, ”Esjmond said.
So why didn’t the mother’s bones dissolve?
This is because, during mummification, the body is covered with natrium salt to dry out the body. Drying it captured the minerals in place, Esjmond said, so the bones could still be spotted.
So far, the mummy studied by the Warsaw Mummy Project is the only one believed to have been mummified while pregnant.
“But other research might show it’s more common than you think,” Esjmond said.
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