The youngest mummified human fetus from ancient Egypt to date has been unearthed in an archeological discovery, showing the preciousness of the unborn child at that time, according to British experts.

Fitzwilliam Museum researchers in Cambridge, United Kingdom, used a special CT scan method to gauge the age of the unborn baby, estimating that the pregnancy lasted 16 to 18 weeks.

The 44-centimeter-long (about 17 inches) coffin was excavated at Giza back in 1907 by the British School of Archaeology.

The museum’s conservation head, Julie Dawson, said that the groundbreaking find is telling of how precious unborn children were in ancient Egypt.

“The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life even in the first weeks of its inception,” she explained of the fetus housed in a coffin that’s a miniature of those used from 664 to 525 B.C., the late period of the ancient civilization.

According to the museum, the small mummified package was carefully wrapped in bandages, and then poured with molten black resin before closing the coffin.

The coffin’s contents were previously mistaken to be mummified samples of internal organs, which were removed during standard embalming procedure. But scientists thought it was important to be sure after X-ray results proved to be inconclusive, so they employed a micro CT scan and eventually discovered a tiny human body inside the coverings.

The fetus’ pelvis and skull have collapsed but its fingers, toes, and long bones in the arms and legs remain viewable from the scan.

The fetus has its arms crossed over the chest – a factor that, combined with the complex composition and decoration of the coffin, clearly indicated the burial’s importance in the society, the museum added.

This mummified fetus, however, is not the first to be found from ancient Egypt. Two small ones placed in different coffins were previously retrieved from King Tutankhamun’s tomb, both significantly older than the Fitzwilliam Museum fetus at 25 and 37 weeks of gestation.

Tutankhamun’s own tomb still holds secrets despite being extensively studied for almost a century now. Its first infrared scans, for instance, indicated that it could be sheltering a hidden chamber – potentially the lost burial site of Queen Nefertiti, the king’s stepmother who died 14th century B.C.

Photo: Paul Hudson | Flickr

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