Ancient Egyptians went through a lot of underwear when they wrapped up your lost loved ones. Winding long strips of the material around their torsos and appendages—and sometimes around their individual fingers and toes—these wrappings were intended to protect and preserve the dead during their transition to the afterlife.

But what was woven inside and beneath those layers of linen?

According to recent studies in Frontiers in Medicine, the “digital unwrapping” of an approximately 2,300-year-old mummy reveals this age-old secret. Research has revealed that the mummy preserved an abundance of precious amulets placed inside and under the shrouds, both on and inside the body. Researchers report that the mummy provides one of the best demonstrations of ancient Egyptian beliefs about death and dying.

Mummies and ancient amulets

The ancient Egyptians approached death as a transition in another world where the spirit would separately from the mummified body of the deceased and proceed to a a perfect form of the deceased’s previous life. However, this journey to the afterlife was far from simple or straightforward, involving a difficult final journey and judgment where only those who were considered worthy they were allowed to move on.

As such, experts say the living tried to help the deceased through this transition by adorning their bodies with protective amulets and talismans. The ability of objects to protect the dead depends not only on their shape, size, material and decoration, but also on their placement.


Read more: The Mummification Process: How the Ancient Egyptians Preserved Bodies for the Afterlife


To gain further insight into this practice of adornment, three researchers recently turned to the mummified body of a wealthy teenager from 2,300 years ago. The mummified body was located in the basement of Egyptian Museum in Cairo, untouched since its discovery in 1916. Using their “digital unwrapping” technique, the team eventually found that this “golden boy” mummy was armed with 49 amulets, several in the shape of body parts such as the heart and the language.

“Here we show that the body of this mummy was richly decorated with 49 amulets, beautifully stylized in a unique arrangement of three columns between the folds of the shrouds and inside the mummy’s body,” said Sahar Salem, study author and professor of paleoradiology at Cairo University, according to a press release. “Many were made of gold, while some were made of semi-precious stones, baked clay or faience. Their purpose was to protect the body and give it vitality in the afterlife.

Amulets for the afterlife

Turning to computed tomography (CT) to image the inside of the “golden boy” mummy, the researchers determined that the teenager was between the ages of 14 and 15 when he died, with no clear cause of death other than natural causes.


Read more: Are the Egyptian pyramids aligned with the stars?


Much more amazingly, the team found an assortment of 21 different types of amulets, including a golden tongue amulet located in the mouth and a golden heart amulet located in the chest. According to researchers, the golden tongue allowed the boy to speak in the afterlife, while the golden heart silenced his heart, which was believed to protect the deceased during their final judgment.

In fact, although mummies of this time tended to be missing almost all of their internal organs, they usually preserved their hearts, which were seen as the center of a person’s consciousness. According to Book of the Deadthe main funerary text of the time, although the heart was imperative in the transition to the afterlife, the organ sometimes testified against the deceased during their final judgment if not properly silenced by the addition of an amulet.


Read more: Who built the Egyptian pyramids? Not slaves


Other talismans were positioned on or inside the body to provide balance and protection to the deceased in the afterlife. In addition to these amulets, the deceased also wore a gilded mask, a wreath of ferns, and a pair of sandals, the latter of which was probably intended to allow the teenager’s spirit to rise from its two separate coffins and travel to its final destination.

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