An ancient Egyptian mummy found with an intact brain, but no heart, has a plaque on her abdomen that may have been intended to ritually heal her, say a team of researchers who examined the female body with CT scans.
The woman probably lived around 1,700 years ago, at a time when Egypt was under Roman rule and Christianity was spreading, according to radiocarbon dating. Her name is unknown and she died between age 30 and 50. Like many Egyptians, she had terrible dental problems and had lost many of her teeth.
The use of mummification was in decline as Roman culture and Christianity took hold in the country. But this woman and her family, apparently strong in their traditional Egyptian beliefs, insisted on having the procedure done.
To remove her organs, the scans show, the embalmers created a hole through her perineum and removed her intestines, stomach, liver and even her heart. Her brain, however, was left intact. Spices and lichen were spread over her head and abdomen, and she was wrapped and presumably put in a coffin; her final resting place was likely near Luxor, 19th century records say.
Before the embalmers were finished they filled the hole in the perineum with linen and resin. They also put two thin plaques similar to cartonnage (a plastered material) on her skin above her sternum and abdomen, something that may have been intended to ritually heal the damage the embalmers had done and act as a replacement, of sorts, for her removed heart.
The heart played a central role in ancient Egyptian religion, being weighed against the feather of ma'at (an Egyptian concept that included truth and justice) to see if one was worthy of entering the afterlife. For this reason, Egyptologists had long assumed the Egyptians didn't remove that organ, something that recent research into several mummies, including this one, contradicts. [See Images of the Egyptian Mummification Process]
With evidence showing the heart was removed on at least some occasions Egyptologists are left with a question, what did the ancient Egyptians do with it?
"We don't really know what's happening to the hearts that are removed," said Andrew Wade, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, in an interview with Live Science. During some time periods, the hearts may have been put in canopic jars, a type of jar used to hold internal organs, though tissue analysis is needed to confirm this idea, Wade said.
Reference: Jarus, Owen. (2014). Ancient Mummy Found With Brain, No Heart. Retrieved from: http://www.livescience.com/44644-ancient-egyptian-mummy-has-no-heart.html