Egyptian Mummy’s Fetus Preserved for Millennia

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What Preserved This Pregnant Egyptian Mummy’s Fetus for Millennia?

by Jane Recker/Smithsonianmag.com

Scientists with the Warsaw Mummy Project have determined how the fetus of the world’s only known pregnant mummy was preserved. Thanks to the combined effects of decomposition and mummification, the ancient Egyptian fetus was essentially “pickled,” reports Science Alert’s Michelle Starr. The analysis is newly published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

As the team explains in a blog post, corpses’ blood pH levels drop significantly over time, meaning the fetus would have been exposed to a highly acidic uterine environment that dissolved its bones. The salting process of mummification kept the mother’s bones from dissolving and almost “hermetically sealed” the uterus, preserving the fetus’ soft tissue inside the womb.



A similar process naturally preserved Europe’s famed “bog bodies,” whose pristinely preserved skin shrank in peat bogs’ high-acidity, low-oxygen environments. Sometimes, conditions in the bogs completely dissolved skeletons.

In the blog post, the researchers liken bone demineralization to soaking an egg in vinegar; placing the egg in an acidic environment for a few days makes the mineral components (the shell) dissolve, leaving the inside of the egg (the albumen and yolk) intact in a springy, ball-like state.

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