Australia: Mummy found in ′empty′ Egyptian coffin | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 27.03.2018
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Australia: Mummy found in 'empty' Egyptian coffin

The elegantly carved 2,500-year-old coffin was thought to be empty and never opened. Scientists have yet to identify the mummy from ancient Egypt but say the coffin offers up some important clues.

Scientists in Australia have discovered the remains of a mummy in a 2,500-year-old coffin that was previously classified as empty.

The coffin, acquired by the University of Sydney 150 years ago, was left untouched in its Nicholson Museum and was never studied.

But when researchers removed the lid to the coffin late last year, they discovered the tattered remains of a mummy.

A 2,500-year old coffin at the University of Sydney

The 2,500-year old coffin was never studied at the University of Sydney museum

"The records previously said the coffin was empty or with debris...There is a lot more to it than previously thought," said Jamie Fraser, the lead investigator and senior curator at the museum.

Read moreAta, Ötzi and Tutankhamun: What's so fascinating about mummies?

The sarcophagus was one of four ancient and intricately designed Egyptian coffins — three of them with full-bodied mummies — acquired around 1860 by Charles Nicholson, a former chancellor of Sydney University.

Coffin's original occupant

Fraser said initial study shows the remains are of a single human, an adult probably around the age of 30. 

Hieroglyphs show the original occupant of the coffin that dates back to 600 BC was a priestess called Mer-Neith-it-es. Egypt was then 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 said.

"There are some clues in hieroglyphs and the way the mummification has been done and the style of the coffin that tell us about how this Temple of Sekhmet may have worked," he said.

Detailed computed tomography (CT) scans and a laser scan for 3D modeling purposes were finished last week.

The examination has so far been able to locate several bones, bandages, resin fragments, and more than 7,000 glass beads from a funeral shawl.

Rare research opportunity

The mummy was "heavily disturbed" and likely robbed for jewels and amulets by tomb raiders.

The discovery offers scientists a rare opportunity to test the corpse that could help unlock mysteries around ancient Egypt.

"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.

Whole mummies offer few scientific benefits as they are typically left intact.

ap/kms (Reuters, dpa)

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