Ancient Egyptians covered ‘Golden boy’ mummy in priceless amulets, groundbreaking scans reveal

CAIRO, Egypt — This teen really was “mummy’s golden boy,” as scans of a 2,300-year-old mummy reveal that the ancient Egyptian is wearing 49 amulets, many of them gold, inside his coffin. The discovery, using the latest technology that does not disturb the teen’s remains, is also providing new insight into the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs about life after death.

Researcher in Cairo are calling the mummy “The Golden boy” after finding the 49 amulets, which include 21 different types, and many made of gold. The precious items were placed on or inside the body to prepare the dead boy for the afterlife. The scans show those who prepared the body also gave him sandals to help him walk out of his coffin and make the journey to the other side.

“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,” says Dr. Sahar Saleem, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Cairo University, in a media release.

The mummy's face on CT scans.
The mummy’s face on CT scans. (Credit: SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy)

The boy likely came from a wealthy family

Apart from the heart, the organs were removed through an incision and the brain was taken out through the nose and replaced with resin. The precious amulets include a two-finger amulet next to the uncircumcised penis, a golden heart scarab placed in position of the heart, and a golden tongue inside the boy’s mouth.

Being such a lavish mummy signifies the high socioeconomic status of the boy. Study authors say the ancient Egyptians believed that when we die, our spiritual body seeks out an afterlife similar to our own world. However, entry requires a perilous journey through the underworld, followed by an individual last judgement by the gods. For this reason, researchers believe relatives did everything they could to ensure that their loved one reached a happy destination.

CT scan of amulets inside a mummy's coffin
Amulets were placed on or inside the mummy in three columns. (CREDIT:
SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy)

What do the amulets mean?

The amulets have various uses in the afterlife. The golden tongue leaf was placed inside the mouth to ensure the boy could speak after death, while the two-finger amulet was placed beside his penis to protect the embalming incision. An Isis Knot, which is an ancient Egyptian symbol linked to the goddess Isis, summons the protection of the goddess in the afterlife. A right-angle amulet brings balance and levelling, while the double falcon and ostrich plumes represent the duality of spiritual and material life.

A heart scarab in the shape of a beetle also had an important role.

“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 of 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,” Saleem explains.

A mummy's golden coffin
The mummy’s coffin. (CREDIT: SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy)

New technology allows mummies to rest in peace

Within his coffin, the teen is also wearing a gilded head mask, a pectoral cartonnage that covers the front of the torso and garlanded in ferns.

Ancient Egyptians were fascinated by plants and flowers and believed they possessed sacred and symbolic effects. Bouquets of plants and flowers were placed beside the deceased at the time of burial: this was done for example with the mummies of the New Kingdom kings Ahmose, Amenhotep I, and Ramesses the Great. The deceased was also offered plants in each visit to the dead during feasts,” the study author continues.

“Here we show that this mummy’s body was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylized 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 semiprecious stones, fired clay, or faience. Their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife.”

The team of scientists made these discoveries using CT scans, ensuring that the mummy’s coffin was never opened and is left undisturbed.

4 images of a mummy showing his skeleton and outer wrappings
The mummy digitally unwrapped in four stages. (CREDIT:
SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy)

What do scientists know about this teen?

The teenager was 128 centimeters tall (roughly 4-foot-2-inches), not circumcised, and appeared to die from natural causes. With the condition of his bones and his non-erupted wisdom teeth, researchers estimate that the boy was between 14 and 15 years-old. He had good teeth with no evidence of decay, tooth loss, or any dental disease.

The mummy was found in 1916 at a cemetery used between around 332 and 30 BC in Neg el-Hassay in Southern Egypt. It has been stored unexamined in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo until now.

The teenager lays inside two coffins, with an outer coffin with a Greek inscription and an inner wooden sarcophagus. Based on these exciting results, the management of the Egyptian Museum moved the mummy to the main exhibition hall under the nickname “Golden boy.” In its new spot, visitors can admire the mummy next to CT images and a 3D printed version of the heart scarab amulet, to get as close as possible to the glories of ancient Egyptian civilization.

This findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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