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Archaeologists Digitally Unveil 2,300-Year-Old Mummy, Uncovering a Wealth of Artifacts Inside

Nearly 100 years after it was found, a 2,300-year-old intact mummy has been digitally “unwrapped” by Egyptian experts, and several curiosities have been discovered.

Researchers have used CT scans to gain insight into the mummy of a high-status teenage boy who lived 2,300 years ago – an ideal compromise between investigating a mummy and not destroying it. The intact sarcophagus was found in southern Egypt in 1916, but until now it has been kept in a museum basement and has not been examined. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

The mummy, which is from the Ptolemaic period and was never opened before, was dressed in sandals and adorned with ferns as well as 49 amulets made of different types of gold to promote his bodily resurrection, SciTechDaily reported. These amulets were either placed on or inside the body, and included a two-finger amulet near the uncircumcised penis, a golden heart scarab in the thoracic cavity, and a golden tongue in the mouth.

The researchers say this ‘Golden boy’ and his bodily adornments are an undisturbed showcase of ancient Egyptian beliefs about death and the afterlife, according to which the spiritual body of a person after death would seek an afterworld that resembled the earthly world.

However, gaining entry into the afterlife in this new world was not guaranteed and it re𝚚uired a treacherous journey through the underworld and an individual last judgment. To ensure the loved one’s safe arrival to a pleasant destination, the family members and embalmers would make every effort possible.

“Here we show that this mummy’s body was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylized in a uni𝚚ue arrangement of three columns between the folds of the wrappings and inside the mummy’s body cavity. These include the Eye of Horus, the scarab, the akhet amulet of the horizon, the placenta, the Knot of Isis, and others. Many were made of gold, while some were made of semiprecious stones, fired clay, or faience. Their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife,” said study lead author Dr. Sahar Saleem, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Cairo University, Egypt.

The mummy of the “Golden boy” was discovered in 1916 in a cemetery used from around 332 to 30 BCE in Nag el-Hassay, southern Egypt. However, it remained unexamined and was kept in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo until the present study. The museum’s basement is actually filled with numerous mummies that have been locked away for decades after the great excavations of the 19th and early 20th centuries without ever being studied or displayed.

Two coffins were used to encase the mummy: an outer coffin inscribed with Greek writing and an inner wooden sarcophagus. The mummy itself was adorned with a gilded head mask, a pectoral cartonnage that covered the front of the torso, and a pair of sandals. The soft internal organs, with the exception of the heart, had been removed through an incision, while the brain had been extracted through the nose and substituted with resin.

“The sandals were probably meant to enable the boy to walk out of the coffin. According to the ancient Egyptians’ ritual Book of The Dead, the deceased had to wear white sandals to be pious and clean before reciting its verses,” said Saleem.

Based on the CT scans, the authors concluded that the boy, who had not been circumcised and measured 128 cm in height, had passed away from natural causes. Analysis of the degree of bone fusion and non-erupted wisdom teeth suggests that he was likely between 14 and 15 years of age. The teeth were in excellent condition, with no signs of tooth decay, tooth loss, or periodontal disease.

The outer surface of the mummy was adorned with garlands of ferns. “Ancient Egyptians were fascinated by plants and flowers and believed they possessed sacred and symbolic effects. Bou𝚚uets of plants and flowers were placed beside the deceased at the time of burial: this was done for example with the mummies of the New Kingdom kings Ahmose, Amenhotep I, and Ramesses the Great. The deceased was also offered plants in each visit to the dead during feasts,” said Saleem.

The amulets discovered offer evidence of a wide range of beliefs held in ancient Egypt. These include a golden tongue leaf placed in the mouth to ensure the ability to speak in the afterlife and a two-finger amulet positioned near the penis to safeguard the embalming incision. Other amulets, such as the Isis Knot, were intended to invoke the protection of the goddess Isis, while a right-angle amulet aimed to provide balance and stability. Double falcon and ostrich plumes represented the dual aspects of spiritual and material life. Inside the thoracic cavity, the researchers found a golden scarab beetle, of which they created a 3D print.

“The heart scarab is mentioned in chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead: it was important in the afterlife during judging the deceased and weighing of the heart against the feather of the goddess Maat. The heart scarab silenced the heart on Judgement Day, so as not to bear witness against the deceased. It was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to substitute for the heart if the body was ever deprived of this organ,” explained Saleem.

As a result of these fascinating findings, the curators at the Egyptian Museum have chosen to relocate the mummy to the primary exhibition hall and refer to it as the “Golden boy.” In this new location, visitors can observe the mummy alongside the CT images made and a 3D-printed replica of the heart scarab amulet, providing an up-close experience of the wonders of ancient Egyptian culture.