The baby mummy had a European mom, and likely came from a wealthy family. But where he lived and why he died — and at such a young age — remain a mystery. The mummy, exhibited for the first time Thursday at the Saint Louis Science Center, has been the year-long focus of an international team of investigators. The museum said it may be the most extensive research project ever undertaken on a child mummy.
It sat in a museum warehouse until Al Wiman joined the Science Center as vice president two years ago and suggested that modern medical technology could unlock its secrets.
"I saw the possibility of a scientific paper," said Wiman, who spent 30 years as a medical and science reporter for St. Louis television stations.
A small snippet of the mummy‘s wrapping tested for carbon dating suggested the child had lived between 30 B.C. and 130 A.D., in Egypt‘s Roman period around the time of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
Scans detected a hole in the child‘s skull. The brain, like jelly, would have drained through the hole and out through a nostril as part of the mummification process, Washington University dentist and anthropologist Charles Hildebolt said. The scans also identified small incisions on the left side of the body through which the child‘s internal organs were removed and placed in jars.
Corpses prepared for mummification were soaked in a salt and baking soda solution for 40 days, then kept in oils for 30 days.
The challenge was boring into the mummy, which had petrified, to get three samples of degraded muscle, tissue and bone. She succeeded by inserting a thick needle into the chest and shoulder. After that, she extracted DNA using routine methods. Tests showed the boy‘s mother was European. She plans more tests to determine his father‘s ancestry.
Science Center staff were concerned that a mummy exhibit would disrespect the dead. But Egyptologist Ikram said the hope was instead that it would honor the child‘s life.