X-rays have been used to digitally unwrap the mummy of a teenage boy dating back about 2300 years, revealing 49 precious protective amulets, including a gold scarab signifying the heart
24 January 2023
Digital scans of an Egyptian mummy have revealed a teenage boy buried with a “second heart” made from gold, as well as dozens of other amulets that the ancient Egyptians believed were important for the afterlife.
The mummy, which had been left undisturbed in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo since 1916, is from around 300 BC in the Ptolemaic period.
Sahar Saleem at Cairo University digitally unwrapped the small, gold-covered mummy with computed tomography (CT), which involved using hundreds of high-resolution X-ray images to display the skeleton and soft tissue, and reveal 49 amulets of 21 different types.
As well as finding a 3-centimetre golden scarab in the mummy’s chest cavity, symbolising a heart, Saleem and her team discovered a golden tongue inside the skull’s mouth area, an amulet in the shape of two fingers next to the embalming incision mark on the left thigh, and other religious amulets made from gold, semi-precious stones and brightly coloured ceramics.
The boy’s own heart remained in the chest, as a spiritual symbol, say the researchers, as was usual with Egyptian mummies.
The amulets had supposed protective properties for the arduous journey to the afterlife that the Egyptians believed came after death. “The family of the boy offered him a very expensive level of embalming treatment to be prepared properly and equipped for the underground journey to reach the afterlife safely,” says Saleem, such as sandals to walk out of the coffin and a golden tongue to speak with.
The researchers used the CT scans to 3D print a reconstruction of the golden heart. “The large, golden heart scarab amulet is really amazing, especially after I printed it and was able to hold it in my hands,” says Saleem. “There were engraved marks on the back of the 3D-printed amulet that could represent inscriptions and spells.”
These inscriptions appeared to include verses from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which states that the heart scarab is needed to silence the heart when judged by the gods en route to the afterlife.
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