Scientist opens mummy coffin, finds more than dust The mummified body of Minirdis, a 14-year-old Egyptian boy and his burial mask lie in his opened coffin at the Field Museum. His exposed toes appear at left (AP photos)
Scientist opens mummy coffin, finds more than dust
Lexile

Once the lid was off the wood coffin holding the 2,500-year-old mummified remains of a 14-year-old Egyptian boy, scientist J.P. Brown could relax.

The conservator at Chicago's Field Museum and three other scientists had just used clamps and pieces of metal to create a cradle to raise the fragile lid. They wore blue surgical gloves, and slowly lifted the contraption containing the coffin lid. Then they carefully walked it to a table in a humidity-controlled lab at the museum.

"Sweet!" Brown said, after helping set the lid down. He later added: "Oh yeah, I was nervous."

The well-planned routine came as scientists started conservation work on the mummy of Minirdis, the son of a priest. The mummy needs to be stabilized so it can travel. It will appear in the upcoming exhibit, "Mummies: Images of the Afterlife," which is expected to premier next September at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The Field Museum has had the mummy since the 1920s. That's when the institution received it from the Chicago Historical Society. It's part of the museum's collection of 30 complete human mummies from Egypt.

"There's always a risk of damage," said Brown. He did the work in a lab filled with plastic-covered examination tables set behind a large window to let schoolchildren watch his daily work. "So we like to handle these things as little as possible."

Inside the coffin, there was expected damage. CT scans, which make X-ray images that allow scientists to see inside the coffin before opening it, showed the boy's feet were detached and partially unwrapped with his toes sticking out. His shroud and mask were torn and twisted sideways. Those will be repaired.

Brown didn't worry that the mummy would scatter to dust when opened something common in the movies. Pieces of the coffin had previously gone missing, exposing the mummy to the elements.

"The last bit of 'Indiana Jones' and all that," Brown explained before opening the coffin. "That's not going to happen."

And it didn't.

Walking around the opened coffin, Brown pointed and explained the significance of a certain marking. If Minirdis had lived, he would have been a priest like his father, Brown said. Scientists don't know why he died so young.

Critical thinking challenge: Why did the Field Museum bother with opening the mummy before shipping it to Los Angeles?

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COMMENTS (164)
  • Jenna-Janning
    12/12/2014 - 08:07 a.m.

    The remains found in the mummy were old and fragile. The mummy had been in the Chicago field museum since the 1920's. I have been to this museum and they are all so life like. The science related part is that the mummy was mummified. It is a very complicated process to mummify a mummy of ancient Egypt.

  • SD2000green
    12/12/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    The mummy had already been damaged and lost most of its value, so it wouldn't matter if the coffin was opened. On another note, the coffin pieces had already been destroyed, so it was already exposed to the elements and was slowly rotting away. They decided they could keep the mummy intact if they shipped it into LA.

  • R.A.Micheal
    12/12/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    They opened the coffin because they knew there wouldn't be anything wrong with it. So they opened it to examine the mummy and study it before they shipped it to the museum.

  • SA2001orange
    12/12/2014 - 08:39 a.m.

    The Field Museum wanted to open the mummy's coffin before shipping it to Los Angeles because they had to stabilize it before sending it away.

  • cm2001KING
    12/12/2014 - 08:46 a.m.

    The mummy could have been stolen or it could have rotten and it wouldn't have been anything to show at all but they could have shown a casket that he was in

  • Katlyn119
    12/12/2014 - 09:20 a.m.

    this was a great article because did you know the people who work there had to open the mummy thingy so they can see what is in side? i didn't and i learned to day

  • BrookeWhitlock
    12/12/2014 - 09:31 a.m.

    This article relates to science by the decomposition that has taken place on the Egyptian boy. Pieces of the coffin had gone missing, exposing the mummy to the elements.

  • Summer1199
    12/12/2014 - 09:57 a.m.

    this was a great article because it sounds interesting to me how they wanted to see inside a mummy casket. i learned a lot about this article for what they do and all
    DO NOT POST

  • aidan2459
    12/12/2014 - 10:52 a.m.

    This article is about scientist just opining a coffin that had a boy mummy. before they took the lid off the coffin they did an exr. of it to see what was inside and they found a boy thats feet were not attached to him. the scientist say that their is usually broken parts in the process. They are now putting the mummy back in the museum.

  • aidan2459
    12/12/2014 - 10:53 a.m.

    This article is about scientist just opining a coffin that had a boy mummy. before they took the lid off the coffin they did an exr. of it to see what was inside and they found a boy thats feet were not attached to him. the scientist say that their is usually broken parts in the process. They are now putting the mummy back in the museum.

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