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A tiny Egyptian mummy, once thought to be fake because it was inscribed with meaningless hieroglyphics, has now been revealed by a CT scan to contain human remains, proving that it is probably a mummified baby.
The tiny mummy, known as W1013, is part of the Wellcome collection at Swansea University's Egypt Centre, which houses 5,000 Egyptian artefacts collected by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, a 19th century pharmacist and archaeologist.
Measuring 52cm long, the mummy is wrapped in a case made of cartonnage, i.e. layers of linen that have been stiffened with plaster or glue, but the inscriptions on the front and back of the mummy are mock hieroglyphic symbols. This has caused controversy since the mummy came to the museum in 1971, fuelling debates about whether or not it is a fake.
An X-ray scan was done of the mummy by Singleton Hospital in 1998, but the results proved conclusive, until last week, when a CT scan done by Swansea University's Paola Griffiths of the Clinical Imaging College of Medicine showed a dark area about 10cm long which appears to be a foetus and what could be a femur.
The Egypt Centre told IBTimes UK that the results are consistent with the remains of a human baby.
Why did they think it was fake?
Small mummies for children were traditionally made using wet cartonnage wrapped around a disposable core of clay and straw. Once the coffin was ready, a hole would be cut in the back of the case and under the feet to remove the core and place the mummy within it.
Holes can be seen on some cartonnage cases where they have been laced up after the mummy has been placed inside the case, but there are no signs of this on W1013.
Mock hieroglyphic symbols have been seen before in several coffins from the 21st Dynasty found at Saqqara, the Memphite necropolis and the theory is that possibly the hieroglyphs acted as a magical aid in the afterlife.
However, in the case of the mummified baby, the Egypt Centre does not know how Wellcome obtained the mummy, and so it has always been thought that the mummy might be a fake, especially as Swansea University will never open it, in order to prevent the mummy from being damaged.
Male or Female
W1013 is painted in the style of a mummy from the 26th Dynasty (circa 600BC at the beginning of the Late Period of ancient Egypt) and is depicted wearing a heavy blue and yellow striped wig and a wide collar.
It is most common to find striped wigs on the coffins of males from ancient Egypt, however, they also appear on the coffins of women. However, the face is painted reddish-brown, a colour that was usually associated with males in ancient Egypt.
For the mummies of people who had high social status or wealth, the cartonnage wrapping the mummy would have made up the innermost layer before the mummy was placed into a succession of coffins.
"It is sometimes claimed that because there were so many deaths of young children, as well as miscarriages, in the ancient world, that the ancients became 'hardened' to such tragedies," said Egypt Centre curator Carolyn Graves-Brown.
"However, it is clear from the fact that foetuses and infants were buried with care, that such losses were not treated casually. We can imagine that the probable foetus within W1013 represents someone's terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public mourning."