October 17, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘In a First, Researchers Discover a Pregnant Egyptian Mummy’

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “In a First, Researchers Discover a Pregnant Egyptian Mummy” by Allyson Waller

Archaeologists and scientists in Poland were shocked to discover that a mummy that had previously been identified as a priest was in fact a pregnant woman.

In this lesson, you will learn about what researchers know about women in ancient Egypt, and also consider what more you would like to know.

In your journal, or with a partner, brainstorm what you know about ancient Egyptian mummification and women’s health in the past.

  • What do you know about mummification in ancient Egypt? What beliefs do you have about who was mummified: age, class, religious status or gender? Where did you get your information? Teachers? TV shows or movies? Books?

  • What have you learned in history about pregnancy and women’s reproductive health? Have you learned about birth control or pregnancy as part of history or social studies classes or texts?

  • Is it surprising to you that researchers recently discovered the first pregnant mummy? Why or why not?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. How did scientists at the Warsaw Mummy Project realize that their previous analysis of the mummy was incorrect?

2. What additional information were scientists able to piece together about the mummy? How did they draw these conclusions?

3. What makes this discovery so significant within the field of Egyptology? What is most interesting or surprising to you about the discovery?

4. How did the “mummy of a lady” become known as the mummy of a priest? Why do scientists think she ended up in a coffin of a priest?

5. What research has been done about women in studies of Egyptology? What questions does Alexander Nagel, a residential research associate in the anthropology department at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, have about women in ancient Egypt?

6. After reading the article, what questions do you have about women’s experiences, lives and death rituals during that time period?

Choose one of the articles or videos below to learn more about an aspect of women’s lives in ancient Egypt.

Smithsonian Video | What Hieroglyphics Say About the Women of Ancient Egypt

Ted-Ed Video | The Truth Behind Egypt’s Female Pharaohs and Their Power

National Geographic Article | This Ancient Egyptian Woman May Have Died in Childbirth

BBC Bitesize Article | The Weird History of Contraception

World History Encyclopedia Article | Women in Ancient Egypt

  • Based on what you read or watched, what questions do you still have? Why do you think we know so little about women’s experiences — particularly related to reproductive health — in ancient Egypt?

  • Do you think there are parallels to these gaps in knowledge as it relates to women’s health and experiences at other points in history? What do you think are the causes of these gaps in knowledge? What are some possible solutions?

  • What implications, if any, does this lack of information have on the present day?

Spend some time navigating the Warsaw Mummy Project. While you cannot explore the recently discovered pregnant mummy, you can look at an X-ray of mummified cats and a mummified child.

Before moving the mouse over the mummy to expose the X-ray image, write down what you notice about the mummies from the outside. Are you able to identify what kind of animal or person is mummified inside? What clues do you see about what it might be? What bones or body parts can you observe in the X-ray image of the cat or child?

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