A small mummy from the Maidstone Museum (south-east England), initially described as “a mummified falcon from the Ptolemaic period”, surprised experts in 2016, when the museum carried out a CT scan of this and other mummies in the collection:inside identified a human fetus. Andrew Nelson, a mummy expert at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, made a detailed scan of the mummy and, without having to unwrap or damage it, revealed a rare example of fetal malformation, which must have been a tragedy for his family. 2,100 years ago: a child who was born dead when the mother was between 23 and 28 weeks pregnant and with a serious birth defect known as anencephaly, which is characterized by the partial or total absence of the brain, skull, and scalp.
Nelson assembled an interdisciplinary team to examine and interpret the images, during a high-resolution scan,the largest ever performed on a fetal mummy, the University of Western Ontario reported in a May 31 statement. The images show well-formed fingers and toes, but severe skull malformations. “The entire top of her skull is not formed. The arches of her spinal vertebrae are not closed. Her ear bones are in the back of her head,” Nelson describes. A part of the cranial vault never formed and “there was probably no real brain“. This is one of two known mummies with anencephaly, the other being described in 1826. The research provides information on maternal diet (anencephaly can be caused by a lack of folic acid, which is found in green leafy vegetables) and also opens up new questions: “Was the mummification carried out because the fetuses had value as talismans?” asks Nelson.