Australian academics could help unlock mysteries around ancient Egypt after discovering that a 2,500-year old coffin might contain the remains of a prestigious mummy.
The University of Sydney acquired the coffin 150 years ago and a series of academics incorrectly classified it as empty.
Their error was only discovered by chance late last year when more recent academics removed the lid to the coffin and discovered the tattered remains of a mummy.
The discovery offers scientists an almost unique opportunity to test the cadaver.
“So the very fact it’s so poorly preserved, in a way, is an almost unique opportunity for us,” said Jamie Fraser, senior curator at the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney on Tuesday.
“We can physically lay the remains out and actually handle them and start asking some quite intimate questions that those bones will hold, about the pathologies, about the diet, about the disease, about the lifestyle of this person – how they lived, why they died. All those clues should be in the bones,” he added.
Whole mummies are typically left intact, limiting their scientific benefits. Adding to the potential rewards is the possibility that the remains are those of a distinguished woman of an age where little is known, Fraser said.
Hieroglyphs show the original occupant of the coffin was a female called Mer-Neith-it-es, who academics believe was a high priestess in 600 BC, the last time Egypt was ruled by native Egyptians.