A treasure trove of Egyptian beliefs on the afterlife has been unearthed following the examination of a ‘golden boy’ initially recovered from a cemetery used between 332 and 30 BCE in Nag el-Hassay, southern Egypt.
The body of the boy, who died of natural causes between the ages of 14 to 15 years old, was equipped with 49 amulets of 21 different types, many of which were made of gold and had been carefully placed on or inside the body.
Among the Ptolemaic period amulets, there was a golden heart scarab placed inside the thoracic cavity, a golden tongue inside the mouth, a two-finger amulet next to the boy’s uncircumcised penis, sandals and a fern garland with ritual significance.
Using computerized tomography (CT), the researchers were able to ‘digitally unwrap’ the intact, never-opened mummy.
“Here we show that this mummy’s body was extensively decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylized in a unique arrangement of three columns between the folds of the wrappings and inside the mummy’s body cavity,” Sahar Saleem, first author of the study presenting these findings, said in a media statement. “These include the Eye of Horus, the scarab, the akhet amulet of the horizon, the placenta, the Knot of Isis, and others. Many were made of gold, while some were made of semiprecious stones, fired clay, or faience. Their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife.”
According to Saleem, the amulets are a testament to a wide range of Egyptian beliefs. For example, a golden tongue leaf was placed inside the mouth to ensure the boy could speak in the afterlife, while a two-finger amulet was placed beside his penis to protect the embalming incision. An Isis Knot enlisted the power of Isis in the protection of the body, a right-angle amulet was meant to bring balance and levelling, and falcon and ostrich feathers represented the duality of spiritual and material life.
“The heart scarab is mentioned in chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead: it was important in the afterlife during the judging of the deceased and the weighing of the heart against the feather of the goddess Maat,” Saleem explained. “The heart scarab silenced the heart on Judgement Day, so as not to bear witness against the deceased. It was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to substitute for the heart if the body was ever deprived of this organ.”
The sandals, on the other hand, were probably meant to enable the boy to walk out of the coffin. According to the Book of The Dead, the deceased had to wear white sandals to be pious and clean.
Based on these results, the management of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo decided to move the mummy to the main exhibition hall under the nickname ‘golden boy.’ It had been stored unexamined in the museum’s basement since its discovery in 1916.
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