Never-Before-Seen Ancient ‘Mud Mummy’ Leaves Scientists Baffled


The first recorded finding of a “mud mummy” from Ancient Egypt left archeologists rather surprised. They recently released a study on the mysterious artifact in the PLOS One journal.

The first ‘mud mummy’ next to the the coffin it was found in. Image credits: Sowada et al, PLOS ONE, CC BY 4.0

The mummy and its decorated coffin were found in Egypt and got acquired by Sir Charles Nicholson in the 1800s. Sir Nicholson was an English-Australian politician and collector, who brought this piece of his collection to Australia and later donated it to the University of Sydney in 1860. Since then, it resides at the university’s Chau Chak Wing Museum.

In 1999, researchers discovered that something is quite unusual about the 3,400-year-old mummy when a CT scan revealed a strange detail from within the coffin. To further investigate, they extracted a few samples from the wrappings on the mummy and discovered that it contained a sandy mud mixture. Mud wrapping was not a known mortuary treatment to archeologists before – it could have been used to stabilize the mummy, but it may have been served the purpose to imitate the royalty of ancient Egyptian society. Their bodies were sometimes wrapped in expensive resin-based materials. This theory would explain the use of mud because it was much more affordable than resin. This type of mummification practice is thought to have been popular during a nearly 350-year period, in the late New Kingdom to the 21st Dynasty of Egypt. This time period was around 1294 B.C. to 945 B.C.

A new team of researchers were able to uncover previously unknown details about the mummy in 2017 when they re-scanned and chemically reexamined the findings.


The 3D CT scan shows the delicate mud wrapping around the body. Image credits: 2021 Sowada et al., Courtesy Chau Chak Wing Museum and Macquarie Medical Imaging, CC BY 4.0

Based on anatomical clues, the skeleton is thought to have belonged to a woman who died between the ages of 26 and 35. After she died, her remains were mummified and wrapped in textiles. Later on, grave robbers are thought to have damaged her mummy, which later generations tried to fix by rewrapping the body and coating it with the mud carapace. The mud was applied in sheets while still damp and pliable. This process was repeated until the body was covered with several layers of mud wrapping.

Despite being repaired once, the mummy was damaged again, which affected all the layers. It seems this damage was more recent, and the perpetrators used metal pins to stabilize the damaged parts.

However, the mud is not the only oddity about the mummy; it is likely that whoever sold the artifacts tricked Sir Nicholson. The dealers possibly placed an unrelated mummified body in the coffin to sell a more complete set. This was a well-known practice among antique traders. The coffin also dates to about 1000 B.C., according to iconography decorating it, making it about 200 years younger than the mummy in it. A female name, Meruah or Meru(t)ah, is inscribed on the coffin, but after all, it’s highly unlikely that it actually contained Meruah’s body when Sir Nicholson bought it.

The mud carapace can be seen as a thin white line (arrows). Image credits: 2021 Sowada et al., Courtesy Chau Chak Wing Museum and Macquarie Medical Imaging, CC BY 4.0

This genuinely new discovery in Egyptian mummification made scientist rethink how the Egyptians buried their dead. Wow, what a find.

Sources: 1, 2

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