In the latest in a series of striking discoveries made by medical experts analyzing the ancient artifacts housed at the Maidstone Museum in Kent, England, a tiny sarcophagus long identified as a “mummified hawk” turned out to be the remains of a human fetus. After performing a CT scan of the ancient mummy, which is thought to be as many as 2,300 years old, experts at the Kent Institute of Medicine and Surgery concluded that the baby miscarried when the mother was around 20 weeks pregnant. If their initial findings are confirmed, it could be one of the youngest human mummies ever discovered.

As part of an ongoing redevelopment of the Ancient Civilizations gallery at the Maidstone Museum in Maidstone, Kent, England, experts at the Kent Institute of Medicine and Surgery (KIMS) have recently performed Computerized Tomography (CT) scans of a number of the museum’s ancient artifacts. Among the items they analyzed was a piece that had been classified as “A mummified hawk with linen and cartonnage, Ptolemaic period (323 B.C.-30 B.C.).”

Scanning the 2,700-year-old mummy, Ta-Kush, at KIMS Hospital. (Credit: Paul Dixon)
Scanning the 2,700-year-old mummy, Ta-Kush, at KIMS Hospital. (Credit: Paul Dixon)

In performing the CT scan, the KIMS team was able to examine the contents of the tiny mummy without unwrapping it, which could have inflicted permanent damage. When they scanned it, however, they discovered that instead of a bird, the remains actually belonged to a miscarried human baby of around 20 weeks’ gestation, making it possibly among the youngest human mummies ever discovered anywhere in the world.

The stunning discovery inspired speculation that the 2,300-year-old mummified fetus was the love child of an Egyptian pharaoh, whose mistress hid the body after she miscarried so as not to upset the king. As reported by FoxNews.com, however, a spokesman from the Maidstone Museum says there is no evidence to support this theory.

Another Maidstone mummy, a visitor favorite at the museum known as Ta-Kush, also recently underwent a CT scan at KIMS, with similarly remarkable results. The 2,700-year-old mummy arrived in England back in the 1820s; she is also known as the Lady of the House and daughter of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife. Though experts previously believed Ta-Kush was around 14 years old when she died, the CT scan revealed evidence of well-worn teeth, cavities, enamel loss and fully erupted wisdom teeth, suggesting she was at least in her mid-20s, and possibly much older.

Scanning the 2,700-year-old mummy, Ta-Kush, at KIMS Hospital. (Credit: Paul Dixon)
Scanning the 2,700-year-old mummy, Ta-Kush, at KIMS Hospital. (Credit: Paul Dixon)

The scan also showed Ta-Kush suffered a wedge fracture in one of her vertebrae; this type of injury is often seen in patients who suffer a downward impact, including a fall or landing upright. The wound did show signs of healing, which indicated Ta-Kush could have been living with the injury, and it was likely not the cause of her death.

Experts from Liverpool John Moores University will aid in further analysis of Ta-Kush, including using the CT scan to try and reconstruct the mummy’s face. Meanwhile, research continues into the mummy’s origins: So far, archaeologists have been able to narrow it down to the area around the ancient city of Thebes, the ruins of which now lie in the Egyptian city of Luxor.

The KIMS Hospital experts also scanned an ancient Egyptian ram’s horn that was plugged with mummy linen. Inside, they were surprised to find objects dating to the Victorian era or later, including a necklace and buttons. They don’t know why the objects might have been stored inside the horn, and plan to conduct further research to determine its purpose.

Scanning the 2,700-year-old mummy, Ta-Kush, at KIMS Hospital. (Credit: Paul Dixon)
Scanning the 2,700-year-old mummy, Ta-Kush, at KIMS Hospital. (Credit: Paul Dixon)

The scans and other ongoing research on objects in the Maidstone collections are part of the redevelopment of the museum’s Ancient Civilizations gallery, financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund to the tune of some 78,700 British pounds ($98,000). In addition to the museum’s foundation, KIMS and Liverpool John Moores, the British Museum’s Egyptology department, the Petrie Museum at University College London, Western Ontario University and the Egypt Exploration Society have also worked on the project.