2,300-year-old ‘golden’ Egyptian mummy unpacked after a century in museum basement
The mummified remains of a teenager, held unexamined in a Cairo museum for more than a century, have been digitally unwrapped for the first time, revealing an excess of amulets and plants adorning his body.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, researchers reveal that the unnamed teenager, aged just 14 or 15, entered the afterlife wearing a pair of white sandals. They used computed tomography (CT), which allows digital reconstructions of bones, blood vessels, soft tissue and more via X-rays, to look inside the coffin.
“Here we show that the body of this mummy was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylized in a unique three-column arrangement between the folds of the casings and inside the body cavity of the mummy,” Sahar Saleem noted. , a radiologist at Cairo University, Egypt, and first author on the paper. They nicknamed the mummy “Golden Boy”.
Saleem notes that Golden Boy’s ornaments conform to some of the rituals described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, including sandals. It was adorned with three columns of amulets between the folds of its wrappers, including items like the Eye of Horus – a beetle inside his chest and a two-fingered amulet next to his penis. Many ornaments were gold.
All of his organs had been removed except for his heart, and scans revealed that he also had pristine teeth.
Golden Boy’s coffin was first discovered in 1916 in a necropolis in Nag el Hassaya, the cemetery in the city of Edfu, but was stored in the Egyptian Museum. The boy lived during the Ptolemaic period between around 330 and 30 BC and probably had high status thanks to a “lavish golden mask” in which he was buried. His cause of death is unknown but there were no signs he was unnatural, according to the research.
Saleem and his colleagues had previously digitally unwrapped the mummy of Amenhotep I in 2021 and was responsible for finding a knife wound in Ramses III’s throat as well as a missing toe, suggesting he was murdered by a gang of assassins.
The Egyptians believed that life did not end with death. Instead, there was life after death. The process of mummifying and placing ornaments, amulets and plants was designed to help the spirits of the dead navigate the afterlife. Golden Boy provides more evidence of burial rituals and the importance of these ornaments during the boy’s life in the Ptolemaic period.
The research led the Egyptian Museum to move Golden Boy from the basement to its main exhibition hall where it will now be displayed.
Update Jan 23: Mummy details added from research paper.
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