Tiny 17-Week-Old Unborn Baby is the Youngest Egyptian Mummy Researchers Have Ever Found

International   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   May 17, 2016   |   5:04PM   |   Cairo, Egypt

Archaeologists made an amazing discovery recently when they found the mummy of a tiny, 16- to 18-week gestation baby taken from a tomb in Egypt.

The finding is a fascinating piece of evidence that Egyptians valued unborn babies thousands of years before ultrasounds or scientific discoveries about the beginning of life.

CBS News reports researchers at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England spent a century thinking that the tiny coffin contained mummified internal organs. However, a recent CT scan revealed that inside was the tiny body of a baby, likely miscarried between 16 and 18 weeks gestation, according to the report.

“The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life, even in the first weeks of its inception,” Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the Fitzwilliam Museum, told CBS.

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The baby is the “youngest ever example of a human fetus to be embalmed and buried in Egyptian society,” the researchers said in a statement. The tiny cedarwood coffin appears to have been made for the baby. It measures 44 centimeters (about 17 inches) in length and has small, intricate carvings on it, according to the museum.

The baby had ten fingers and toes, and its arms were folded across its chest – another indication that Egyptians considered the baby to be a valuable human being, according to researchers. The museum said researchers were not able to tell whether it was a boy or a girl, or how the baby died.

Researchers estimated the coffin was from Egypt’s Late Period, sometime between 644 B.C. and 525 B.C., according to the report. Archaeologists originally discovered the tiny coffin in 1907 while excavating at Giza, according to the museum. It spent more than 100 years in the museum’s collection before researchers discovered that the baby’s body was inside. The baby’s coffin currently is on display at the Cambridge museum as part of a larger ancient Egypt exhibit.

“This landmark discovery … is remarkable evidence of the importance that was placed on official burial rituals in ancient Egypt, even for those lives that were lost so early on in their existence,” museum researchers said.

Earlier finds also have revealed that the ancient Egyptian culture treated unborn babies as valuable human beings. In 2014, Bradley Mattes, executive director of Life Issues Institute, said archaeologists discovered burial sites set aside for unborn babies in Egypt.

Mattes also wrote about a South African tribe whose traditions honoring pregnancy and unborn children fascinated sociologists. Researchers found that the Limpopo tribe considered pregnancy to be an honor, and its members actively were involved in supporting the mother and her unborn child throughout the pregnancy.

“This high respect and compassionate perspective on pregnancy is something that should be universally duplicated within our culture,” Mattes said at the time.