Curators of a museum in Sydney, Australia, recently unlocked a long-hidden mystery.
An ancient Egyptian sarcophagus which had been labelled for decades as empty, was opened last year for the first time in over 20 years. Scientists opened the coffin to discover the tattered remains of a mummy.
“Imagine this coffin has been shaken like a cocktail shaker, and you can perhaps picture the jumble of remains inside,” Jamie Fraser, senior curator at the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney wrote in a school publication. The coffin’s torso and head are piled high with layers of bandages and chunks of resin that was poured over the mummy as a preserving agent; a leg bone lies against the coffin’s shoulder, rib bones jut erratically from bandages, part of the jaw lies near the coffin’s feet.
“Hundreds of tiny faience beads, once laid over the mummy as a beaded net, are scattered throughout.”
The coffin was purchased by Sir Charles Nicholson, a former school chancellor, and donated to the university in the 1850s.
In a school handbook published in 1948, a professor listed the coffin as empty, although the school’s database said it contained mixed debris.
So the coffin became an afterthought until June 2017, when curators removed the lid of the sarcophagus for the first time in more than two decades.
“We were astonished by what we saw,” Fraser wrote. “Far from residual scraps, the coffin was filled with a miscellany of bones, bandages, beads and other materials.”
Hieroglyphs show the original occupant of the coffin was a female called Mer-Neith-it-es, who academics believe was a high priestess in 600 BC, the last time Egypt was ruled by native Egyptians.
“We know from the hieroglyphs that Mer-Neith-it-es worked in the Temple of Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess,” Fraser told Reuters.
The discovery offers scientists an almost unique opportunity to test the cadaver.
“We can start asking some intimate questions that those bones will hold around pathology, about diet, about diseases, about the lifestyle of that person — how they lived and died,” Fraser said.
*With files from Reuters