An assembly of interdisciplinary experts discovers that a small Egyptian mummy labeled as a "hawk" in a museum was actually a severely malformed baby boy.

The mummified fetus was mislabeled as "Mummified Hawk Ptolemaic Period" while being kept at the Maidstone Museum in the United Kingdom.

An examination led by Andrew Nelson, a bioarcheologist and professor of anthropology at the Western University, revealed that the malformed fetus was male and was stillborn at 23 to 28 weeks of gestation.

The baby suffered anencephaly, a condition where the brain and part of the skull failed to develop properly.

Nelson worked with a team comprised of international experts in Egyptology, radiology, anatomy, neonatology, and urology.

Fetal Mummy

Nelson described their findings as "a family tragedy even two millennia ago." The baby boy had a severely misshapen skull where the whole top of the head was deformed. He had no bones to shape the roof and sides of his skulls where his brain would have been located. The boy's earbones were located at the back of his head. The arch of his vertebrae spine has not closed.

Nelson, therefore, concluded that the boy probably had no real brain.

"It would have been a tragic moment for the family to lose their infant and to give birth to a very strange-looking fetus, not a normal-looking fetus at all. So this was a very special individual," said Nelson. The boy, however, had complete toes and fingers.

Nelson and his team employed a micro-CT scans to come up with their findings. Their analysis became the highest-resolution scan ever conducted of a fetal mummy.


Nelson said that their research provides an important insight about anencephaly: a maternal diet deficient of folic acid, which is found in green vegetables, may result in the condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the exact cause of anencephaly remains vague at present. Nevertheless, the center recommends women to get enough folic acid before and during early pregnancy to help prevent the condition.

Anencephaly is a type of neural tube defect. Normally, the neural tube closes to form the baby's brain and skull, spinal cord, and backbones. If the upper portion of the neural tube does not close as it normally should, then anencephaly occurs. A baby could be born without the front part of the brain, and the remaining portion of the brain is left without a bone or skin covering.

Fetus With Power

Nelson presented the team's analysis at the Extraordinary World Congress on Mummy Studies held in the Canary Islands. In his presentation, he also mentioned whether fetal mummification practices were done because early Egyptians believed that fetuses possess power like talismans.

He mentioned about a legal case heard during the Roman times where a farmer complained about a thief who threw a fetus at him when he tried to stop him from stealing grains. The farmer described the fetus as possessing a power so strong that he and other villagers were frozen and left unable to move.

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