A pregnant mummy was discovered for the first time last year. And scientists now think they know how the fetus in the mummy’s abdomen could have been preserved so well.

A year ago, Polish scientists discovered something spectacular. After poring over an Egyptian mummy that has been on display at the Warsaw National Museum for decades, they discovered that beneath the bandages lies the body of a young woman, who was pregnant at the time of death. The unique find raised some pressing questions, including how the fetus in the womb has withstood the test of time so well.

Unique find

The discovery of the pregnant Egyptian mummy was very special. Never before had scientists recovered a pregnant woman carefully embalmed and mummified by the Egyptians. In addition, prior to the investigation – judging by the coffin in which the mummy lay – it was assumed that a man was hiding under the bandages. But a CT scan revealed that it was really a woman; the scans clearly showed breasts and female genitalia. But really startling was the discovery of a fetus.

Discovered fetus in the womb of the mummified young woman. Image: General Electric – A.Andrzejewska/WMP/Affidea

Researchers have puzzled over how the fetus in the mummy’s abdomen could be preserved so well. And now they think they know the answer. While the ancient Egyptians mummified the pregnant woman, a completely natural mummification process took place in her belly. One that somewhat resembles ‘brine’.

Mummification Process

“The pH of the blood in the deceased – including the contents of the uterus – drops significantly,” the researchers explain. “This makes it more acidic and the concentrations of ammonia and formic acid increase over time.” It means that the fetus ended up in a rather acidic environment. In addition, during the mummification process, the young woman’s body was dipped in natron so that it dried out. This restricted the access of air and oxygen. The end result is an almost hermetically sealed uterus containing the fetus. This subsequently led to the partial breakdown of fetal bones and mineralization of the fetus. A similar decomposition of bones occurs in the acidic environment of swamps. Recovered swamp bodies sometimes have no bones due to a similar process.

More about the pregnant mummy
Researchers have previously managed to measure the head circumference of the fetus. And based on that, they were able to estimate the gestational age. The researchers think the woman was pregnant between 26 and 30 weeks. An analysis of the woman’s teeth further suggests that she herself was between 20 and 30 years old. It is unclear who the woman was. But the fact that she was carefully mummified and also given the necessary amulets, suggests that she enjoyed a high social status.

The study leads to a surprising new insight. When scientists examine mummies, they are usually looking for bones. But the new results suggest it may be more important to study the shape of soft tissues in the pelvic region.


According to the researchers, there is a good chance that there are more ‘pregnant mummies’ in museum collections. But they may simply have been insufficiently analyzed to this day. “It’s probably only a matter of time before the next mummified pregnant woman is discovered,” the researchers said.

At the same time, the pregnant mummy from the current study still has many secrets. For example, the researchers do not yet fully understand why the unborn child was not removed from the womb. The Egyptians were used to extracting large organs – such as the heart, lungs, liver, intestines and stomach – from the body of the deceased. It is still unclear why they chose to leave this baby in the womb. The researcher hopes to unravel this, along with other secrets that the young woman took to her grave, in the future.