2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy found at Sydney university

Xinhua
Staff at the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum in Australia were shocked to find a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy inside a coffin that was thought to be empty.
Xinhua

Staff at the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum in Australia were shocked to find a 2,500-year-old Egyptian mummy inside a coffin that was thought to be empty.

"The coffin was originally bought from an antiquity market in Egypt back in 1858, by Sir Charles Nicholson, one of the first chancellors here at the University of Sydney," archaeologist and investigation lead Dr Jamie Fraser told Xinhua on Tuesday.

"One of the curators in 1940 published a catalogue saying that the coffin was empty so we had this perceived wisdom that there wasn't very much there."

But recently, when Fraser decided to take some photographs of the underside of the coffin for the museum's records, staff thought they better know what was inside before they moved it onto scaffolding.

"Our records said that either it was empty or there was mixed debris in it," Fraser said.

"We expected a few bandages or maybe a couple of bones, but when we took the lid off we were just astonished by what we had found."

Although it's not known who the person was or how they got to be inside the coffin, investigators have discovered a few helpful clues that might help solve the ancient mystery.

"The coffin was made for a lady called Mer-neith-ites and we know that she lived in Egypt around 600 BC due to the style of the coffin," Fraser said.

"We also know she worked in the temple of the goddess Sekhmet because it tells us that on the coffin as well."

"What we don't know is if the remains inside the coffin are Mer-neith-ites herself because many coffins that were bought in the mid 19th century from the antiquities markets would have coffins and mummies sold as an ensemble but they did not necessarily fit together."

Researchers believe that due to the mummy's very bad condition, the coffin was almost certainly a target of tomb robbers.

"They tore the mummy apart to try and get all the jewels and amulets," Fraser said.

"Then the coffin was transported to the dealership shop and then moved by Nicholson to London and then onto Sydney, so there is a mixture of many bones, bandages and beads."

Although the body is not entirely intact, Fraser believes it presents a very unique opportunity for further study.

"When you have a complete mummy, you have an ethical responsibility to treat these people as they intended to be treated, we don't want to unwrap them, we want to preserve them," he said.

"Although we can use digital tools to scan a complete mummy, we don't ever actually get to handle the bones, so now the next step is for a forensic archaeologist to lay the bones out and perform an analysis on what they ate, what their lifestyle was like and how they died."

"These answers lie in the pathology of the bones."


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