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For decades, scientists said 2,500-year-old coffin was empty. Then they looked inside

Scientists long thought an Egyptian coffin obtained by the University of Sydney just over 150 years ago was empty — until researchers opened it last year and found the remains of a mummy inside. Now they are working to determine who is inside.
Scientists long thought an Egyptian coffin obtained by the University of Sydney just over 150 years ago was empty — until researchers opened it last year and found the remains of a mummy inside. Now they are working to determine who is inside. Screenshot from the Nicholson Museum’s Facebook

Researchers at the University of Sydney got their hands on an Egyptian coffin more than 150 years ago.

Since then, the 2,500-year-old sarcophagus — assumed to be empty — sat in a museum, according to BBC. The truth didn’t come out until last year, when researchers opened up the ancient artifact and saw what was inside.

They found the remains of a mummy. Researchers opened the coffin in June to take pictures of the hieroglyphics underneath, according to Mashable, and found human feet, ankles and other bones. It’s believed that the remains came from a single person who was at least 30 years old.

Jamie Fraser, senior curator at the Nicholson Museum, told Mashable that “it was an amazing moment of discovery.”

Not much of the mummy was found by researchers because they believe tomb raiders “disturbed” the remains while stealing jewels, according to USA Today. Scientists originally thought the coffin was empty or filled with simple debris.

That gives scientists a chance to test the mysterious remains, Fraser said.

“We can start asking some intimate questions that those bones will hold around pathology, about diet, about diseases, about the lifestyle of that person how they lived and died,” he told USA Today.

Researchers have an idea of who might be inside. The coffin was intended to be used for Mer-Neith-it-es, a high priestess from 600 B.C. who “worked in the Temple of Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess,” Fraser said in an interview with Reuters.

Mummies are often found in one piece, he added, giving this discovery additional scientific upside.

Fraser’s team, which used computed tomography and laser scans on the mummy, found resin fragments, bandages, bones and 7,000 glass beads in the coffin. It’s estimated that just 10 percent of the mummy’s body is still within the coffin, according to BBC.

The Nicholson Museum also holds three other mummies — Horus, Meruah and Padiashiakhet — and their coffins. Those three mummies, and the fourth newly discovered one, were all photographed with computed tomography scans, according to Mashable.

They will be featured in an upcoming Mummy Room in the museum that is set to open in 2020.

Fraser told BBC that this discovery was “just unbelievably astonishing.”

“One of those moments where you can’t help but take in a breath and just hang in the moment,” he said. “I’ve never excavated an Egyptian tomb, but this comes close.”

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