Castrated Egyptian Mummy Is An Archaeological Mystery

Kristina Killgrove 

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960x0 2Director of the State Hermitage Museum Mikhail Piotrovsky attends a press conference on the results of the CT (computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) examination of an ancient Egyptian mummy from the museum's collection, in Saint Petersburg on October 3, 2017. An Egyptian mummy from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, presented until now as that of a singer, turned out to be a castrated man, an exceptional case for ancient Egypt, experts told on October 3, 2017.)

On Tuesday, Russian researchers announced that a new MRI scan of an Egyptian mummy assumed to be that of a high-status female singer from 1000 BC was in fact a castrated man.

In a press conference, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg detailed a physical examination by doctors of a mummy that has been in the possession of the museum since 1929. When the museum acquired it, they were told that it was from the temple of Amon-Ra and that the woman was a singer named Babat. But a mix-up appears to have happened at some point, and Babat's body was swapped with a male body.

Using MRI scanning technology, museum experts and medical doctors at St. Petersburg Hospital Number 122 worked together to peer inside the wrappings of the mummy. They were surprised to see the remains of a middle-aged man. Further, they determined his height was between 165-170 cm (5'5" to 5'7"), and they discovered some joint disease but overall good dental health.

Although the press release has little further information, the AFP has reported that the MRI revealed the man had been castrated -- however, it is not clear if it happened before or after his death. "The fact that the man was castrated surprised us a lot; it was not a common practice in Egypt, it is unique," Andrey Bolshakov, one of the officials of the museum, told the AFP. However, new evidence is coming to light from bioarchaeological analyses in Egypt, such as these two skeletons of possible eunuchs reported last spring, which could shed more light on potential eunuch mummies.

Either ante-mortem or post-mortem castration would be an interesting discovery, and theoretically additional analysis of the skeleton could solve that question, as changes associated with low levels of testosterone have been found in the cases of Italian castrati singers Farinelli and Pacchierotti. More information about this fascinating mummy will hopefully be forthcoming from the State Hermitage Museum.