Pickled 6-month foetus preserved in mummy for 2,000 years in incredible find

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A foetus that was found inside of an Egyptian mummy managed to be preserved for more than 2000 years because it was "pickled" like an egg, researchers have revealed.

Last year, scientists discovered an incredible first after finding the mummified foetus within the abdomen of its ancient mother after it was carried out of Egypt by Jan Wężyk–Rudzki, who gave it to the University of Warsaw in December 1826.

The mother, who has been branded the 'Mysterious Lady', has continuously left experts uncertain as to who she was and how she died in her twenties back in the 1st century BCE.

Some records suggest that she was discovered in the 'royal tombs in Thebes' – in a period where none were known from that place.

But researchers have managed to find out that the Mysterious Lady didn't die during childbirth, based on the position of her foetus and how the birth canal was closed.

Palaeopathologist Marzena Ożarek-Szilke, of Poland's University of Warsaw, and her co-workers conducted a study on the ancient mother.

Ożarek-Szilke wrote in a blog post: "The foetus remained in the untouched uterus and began to, let's say, 'pickle'.

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"Blood pH in corpses, including content of the uterus, falls significantly, becoming more acidic, and the concentrations of ammonia and formic acid increase with time.

"The placement and filling of the body with natron significantly limited the access of air and oxygen. The end result is an almost hermetically sealed uterus containing the foetus.

"The foetus was in an environment comparable to the one which preserves ancient bodies to our time in swamps.

"The Mysterious Lady died together with the unborn child, and by examining her, we restore their memory."

She went on to explain how the unborn child would have been protected over the millennia after radiologist Sahar Saleem of Egypt's Cairo University raised questions on the identification of the foetus due to no bones being in the scans.

But Ożarek-Szilke and her team argued that fetal bones are poorly mineralized during the first two trimesters which means they are difficult to find.

They added that the acidifying processes that would have happened inside the corpse of the mother as her body decomposed would have demineralized the bones even further.

The full research has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science here.

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