Museum Finds 2500-Year-Old Mummy in a Sarcophagus Marked 'Empty'
Nearly 160 years ago, the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney acquired the sarcophagus of the Egyptian priestess Mer-Neith-it-es. But it wasn't until last year that researchers realized her remains came with it.
The Independent reports that one of the university's early founders, Sir Charles Nicholson, purchased the casket for the museum's fledging Egyptian collection around 1860. Hieroglyphs marking the outside of the sarcophagus indicated that it belonged to Mer-Neith-it-es, a high priestess who served in the temple of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet around 600 BCE. But the mummy itself was apparently missing: A 1948 handbook listed the coffin as 'empty' and the museum database reported it containing only "mixed debris."
Researchers didn't question its status until June of last year, when they came upon a surprising discovery after opening the sarcophagus for the first time since it arrived at the museum. Inside they found human bones that had avoided detection for more than a century and a half.
The 2500-year-old mummy, which is likely that of Mer-Neith-it-es, isn't fully intact. Tomb raiders got to the coffin before the museum did, leaving behind the fragmented remains of only 10 percent of her body, along with some bandages and more than 7000 beads from a funeral shawl.
Despite its rough appearance, the mummy could provide researchers with invaluable insights into Egyptian life in 600 BCE, the last era when ancient Egypt was ruled by native Egyptians. Further analysis of her bones may reveal details surrounding the priestess's health, eating habits, and any diseases she had while she was alive.