Study uncovers ‘rare mud carapace’ of Egyptian mummy

Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent
·3-min read

New analysis of a more than 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy has revealed a rare mud carapace (shell), a study suggests.

Studies of mummified bodies from the late New Kingdom to the 21st Dynasty (around 1294-945 BC) have occasionally reported a hard resinous shell protecting the body within its wrappings.

This is especially the case for royal mummies of the period.

Researchers have now described the discovery of a rare painted mud carapace enclosing an adult mummy in Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney, Australia.

In addition to its practical restorative purpose, the authors suggest the mud carapace gave those who cared for the deceased the chance to emulate elite funerary practices of coating the body in an expensive imported resin shell with cheaper, locally available materials.

While this mud carapace treatment has not been previously documented in the literature, researchers note it is not yet possible to determine how frequent this treatment may have been for non-elite mummies from that time period.

They suggest further radiological studies on other non-royal mummies may reveal more about this practice.

The authors write: “The mud shell encasing the body of a mummified woman within the textile wrappings is a new addition to our understanding of ancient Egyptian mummification.”

Sir Charles Nicholson bought the mummified body, lidded coffin and mummy board as a set during a trip to Egypt in 1856-7, donating it to the University of Sydney in 1860.

The coffin inscription identifies the owner as a titled woman named Meruah, and the iconography dates it to approximately 1000 BC.

Even though the mummified individual underwent a full scan in 1999, the authors rescanned it for the study, published in the PLOS One Journal, using updated technology.

Mummified individual and coffin in the Nicholson Collection of the Chau Chak Wing Museum
Mummified individual and coffin in the Nicholson Collection of the Chau Chak Wing Museum (Sowada et al/PLOS One)

The authors determined the mummified individual was an adult aged between 26 and 35.

Although the body scans did not reveal external genitalia, and internal reproductive organs had been removed during the mummification process, other characteristics strongly suggest the mummified individual was female.

Analysis of the mummification technique and radiocarbon dating of samples from the linen wrappings suggest the mummy is from New Kingdom (around 1200-1113 BC).

However this means the body is older than the coffin, indicating that local 19th century dealers may have placed an unrelated body in the coffin to sell as a complete set.

The new scans also revealed the extent and nature of the mud carapace, showing the mud shell fully sheaths the body and is layered within the linen wrappings.

Karin Sowada, from Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and colleagues report that the new scans also revealed the extent and nature of the mud carapace, showing the mud shell fully sheaths the body and is layered within the linen wrappings.

Images of the inner most layers indicate the body was damaged relatively shortly after initial mummification, and the mud carapace and additional wrappings were applied to reunify and restore the body.