Egyptian Coffin Is 'Dowdy,' but the Inside Is 'Astonishing'

An Egyptian sarcophagus is found to contain mummified remains
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2018 8:37 AM CDT
They Had the Empty Coffin for 160 Years. But It Wasn't Empty
In this Aug. 30, 2015, file photo, camels rest between rides with their owners against the backdrop of the pyramids in Giza, Egypt.   (AP Photo/Courtney Bonnell, File)

An archaeologist a continent away from Egypt made what he calls an "unbelievably astonishing" discovery: a 2,500-year-old coffin that had always been assumed to be empty actually wasn't. Australian scientists led by Dr. Jamie Fraser of the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum tells the BBC the "dowdy-looking" sarcophagus, one of four the museum's founder obtained from Egypt nearly 160 years ago, had been largely ignored in favor of the other three, which contained mummies. Reuters describes it as a chance find made when scientists decided to lift the lid in June. The university's Muse magazine reports the coffin hadn't been opened in 20 years, and that it was recorded as containing "mixed debris." Not so: Inside was about 10% of a human body, comprised of feet and other bones. The rest was likely ravaged by tomb raider.

CT scans and an excavation concluded last week, though that won't be the end of the research. As Fraser explains, the bones present a unique research opportunity, in that it's not considered ethical to test fully intact mummies; a partial one skirts that limitation. "We can't do anything to the remains that the tomb raiders haven't already done," Fraser notes. Radiocarbon testing will confirm whether the remains are indeed from about 600BC, as hieroglyphics on the coffin suggest. Those markings say it was made for a woman named Mer-Neith-it-es, who was possibly a high priestess. Australia's ABC quotes Egyptologist Connie Lord as describing another "incredible" and "incredibly rare" find: The resin that was poured into the mummy's skull post-brain removal remains; she describes it as similar to the one found in King Tut's coffin. (In this grave, researchers discovered a "coffin birth.")

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