Child mummy found with bandaged wound, a new look at ancient medicine

  • Scientists have discovered the first example of a bandaged wound on an ancient Egyptian mummy.
  • The finding could provide clues to medical treatment at that time.
  • It is not known whether this bandage was added as part of a religious ceremony or left after the treatment.

Scientists have found the first recorded example of a bandaged wound on a mummified body, which may offer greater insight into ancient medical practices.

The finding was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, a peer-reviewed journal, on December 30.

Researchers said they discovered the bandages on the remains of a young girl, aged under four, who died around 2,000 years ago. The bandage wrapped around a wound that showed signs of infection, according to the study.

“It gives us clues as to how they [ancient Egyptians] treated such infections or abscesses in their lifetime,” Albert Zink, director of the Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzona, Italy, and author of the study, told Insider.

The mummy would have been taken from the “tomb of Aline” in the oasis of Fayoum, located southwest of Cairo, according to the study.

Location of Fayoum oasis, Egypt.

Google Maps

The discovery came as a surprise to the scientists, who did not search for the bandages.

“It was really exciting because we weren’t expecting it,” Zink said. “It has never been described before.”

A rare glimpse into medical history

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians had a good understanding of medical practices.

They wouldn’t have known things we’d now take for granted, like how a heart works, how germs cause infection, or how rogue cells cause cancer – but they had a pretty good idea of ​​how to treat symptoms of the disease, Zink said. .

“We know from other evidence, like the papyrus, that they had good experience in treating wounds and injuries,” Zink said.

It is therefore surprising that these types of bandages have never been seen in a mummy before, he said.

In this case, Zink said, the bandages were spotted while scientists performed routine CT scans of the mummies, as seen in the scans below and annotated with the solid arrow.

The wound appeared to have been infected when she died, as scans showed signs of “pus”, Zink said. These signs of infection are marked by the dotted arrows in the scans below.

A side view of a scan of the mummy's foot, with arrows pointing to bandages and areas of infection.

A side view of the mummy’s foot seen in a CT scan.

Image appears courtesy of Elsevier, Copyright Elsevier (2021)

A cross section of the mummy is seen here.

A cross section of the mummy’s legs is shown.

Image appears courtesy of Elsevier, Copyright Elsevier (2021)

“It’s very likely that they applied specific herbs or ointments to treat the inflammation in that area,” which further analysis might identify, Zink said.

Zink said he wanted to get samples from the area to understand what caused the infection and how people at the time treated it.

But that might involve unpacking the mummy, which Zink said he was hesitant to do. Another option would be to take a sample using a biopsy needle, he said.

The mummy of the child is represented in full.  On the front is a portrait of the child painted on linen canvas.

The mummy of the child, seen with a portrait of the girl on its front and golden buttons decorating the strips.

Image appears courtesy of Elsevier, Copyright Elsevier (2021)

The mystery of the missing bandages is revealed

Zink says there was no clear explanation why, in this particular case, the bandages were left in place.

“The question is whether he was just left in place and remained despite the embalming process or whether they placed him,” he said, referring to the embalmers.

The dressings generally did not survive the mummification process. But it is possible that the embalmers added the bandage to the body after the girl died.

Ancient Egyptians believed the mummified body should be as perfect as possible for the afterlife, Zink said: “Maybe they somehow tried to continue the healing process to the afterlife.”

As to why other examples of such bandages hadn’t been spotted before, it’s plausible that scientists simply haven’t been able to spot them until now, or have confused them with other mummy bandages.

Zink now hopes that more examples of mummy wrappers can be uncovered.

“There are always surprises when we study mummies. I have now studied, I don’t know how many mummies in my scientific career, but there is always something new,” he said.

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