Imaging technology of tiny coffin demonstrates the value ancient Egyptians “placed on life even in the first weeks of its inception”

By Dave Andrusko

The arms of the foetus were crossed over its chest, indicating the importance placed on this burial. Photograph: the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The arms of the foetus were crossed over its chest, indicating the importance placed on this burial. Photograph: the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Back in mid-2014, I wrote a well-received post which was titled, “The hearts of the ancients were not hardened to the deaths of children and preborn, what about us?

The crux of the story was “It is sometimes claimed that because there were so many deaths of young children, as well as miscarriages, in the ancient world, that the ancients became ‘hardened’ to such tragedies,” said Egypt Centre curator Carolyn Graves-Brown.

But a CT scan of an ancient Egyptian artifact “showed a little red faced mummy wrapped in bandages, which looked like a small child wearing a yellow and blue striped wig,” according to Jonathan Symcox, writing for the Mirror, a British publication.

“However, it is clear from the fact that foetuses and infants were buried with care, that such losses were not treated casually,” Graves-Brown said. “ We can imagine that the probable foetus within W1013 represents someone’s terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public mourning.”

Which brings us to a recent “aha” moment at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. Thanks once again to modern imaging technology [computed tomography], researchers looked inside a tiny wooden coffin and saw a baby, no more 18 weeks gestation, that had been embalmed and buried. (They speculate there had been a miscarriage.)

According to the Fitzwilliam Museum press release

From the micro CT scan it is noticeable that the foetus has its arms crossed over its chest. This, coupled with the intricacy of the tiny coffin and its decoration, are clear indications of the importance and time given to this burial in Egyptian society.

Julie Dawson, Head of Conservation at the Fitzwilliam Museum, elaborated:

Using noninvasive modern technology to investigate this extraordinary archaeological find has provided us with striking evidence of how an unborn child might be viewed in ancient Egyptian society. The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life even in the first weeks of its inception.

A story posted at AOL explained the background:

The coffin was buried at Giza and likely dates between 664-525 BC.

It was excavated in 1907 and has been at the Fitzwilliam Museum since.