'Golden boy' mummy was covered in 'magic' amulets, scan reveals

The scans revealed the amulets all over the body (Frontiers in Medicine)
The scans revealed the amulets all over the body. (Frontiers in Medicine)

A mummy of a child that has lain undisturbed for 2,300 years was festooned in 'magic' amulets all over his body, new scans have revealed.

Scientists used CT scans to 'unwrap' the mummy and found 49 amulets of 21 different types, many of which were made of gold, which had been carefully placed on or inside the body.

Amulets were believed to give the body powers after death.

The amulets revealed by the scans included a two-finger one next to the uncircumcised penis, a golden heart scarab placed inside the chest, and a golden tongue inside the mouth.

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He was clad in sandals, which would have been believed to help him 'walk' out of his coffin into the afterlife, the researchers said.

The ancient Egyptians believed that when we died, our spiritual body sought out an afterlife similar to this world. But entry into this afterlife wasn't guaranteed – it first required a perilous journey through the underworld, followed by an individual last judgement.

Relatives and embalmers did everything they could to ensure that their loved one might reach a happy destination.

The scans revealed amulets all over the mummy (Frontiers in Medicine)
The scans revealed amulets all over the mummy. (Frontiers in Medicine)

Dr Sahar Saleem, lead author and a professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University, said: "Here we show that this mummy's body was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylised in a unique arrangement of three columns between the folds of the wrappings and inside the mummy's body cavity.

"These include the Eye of Horus, the scarab, the akhet amulet of the horizon, the placenta, the Knot of Isis, and others.

"Many were made of gold, while some were made of semi-precious stones, fired clay, or faience. Their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife."

The 'golden boy' mummy had been found in 1916 at a cemetery used between approximately 332BC and 30BC in Nag el-Hassay in southern Egypt.

It was then stored unexamined in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo until the present study.

The mummy was laid inside two coffins, an outer coffin with a Greek inscription and an inner wooden sarcophagus.

Within, he wore a gilded head mask, a pectoral cartonnage that covered the front of the torso, and a pair of sandals.

Saleem said: "The sandals were probably meant to enable the boy to walk out of the coffin. According to the ancient Egyptians' ritual Book of the Dead, the deceased had to wear white sandals to be pious and clean before reciting its verses."

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The CT scans showed that the boy was 128cm tall, not circumcised, and without any known cause of death other than natural causes.

From the degree of bone fusion and the non-erupted wisdom teeth, the authors estimate that the boy was between 14 and 15 years old.

The amulets are a testament to a wide range of Egyptian beliefs. For example, a golden tongue leaf was placed inside the mouth to ensure the boy could speak in the afterlife, while a two-finger amulet was placed beside his penis to protect the embalming incision.

An Isis Knot enlisted the power of Isis in the protection of the body, a right-angle amulet was meant to bring balance and levelling, and double falcon and ostrich plumes represented the duality of spiritual and material life.

A golden scarab beetle was found placed inside the thoracic cavity, of which a copy was 3D-printed by the researchers.

Saleem said: "The heart scarab is mentioned in chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead. It was important in the afterlife during judging the deceased and weighing the heart against the feather of the goddess Maat.

"The heart scarab silenced the heart on Judgement Day, so as not to bear witness against the deceased. It was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to substitute for the heart if the body was ever deprived of this organ."

Watch: Decapitated Egyptian mummy's head undergoes a CT scan