Digital Scans Reveal Secrets of ‘Golden Boy’ Mummy

The 2,300-year-old mummified teen was buried with 49 protective amulets, several made of gold

Four CT scans of a mummified body
The mummified teen digitally unwrapped in four stages SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy

New digital scans of a mummified teenager have revealed secrets that remained hidden for millennia. Buried some 2,300 years ago, the mummy was uncovered in 1916 at a southern Egypt cemetery and stored, undisturbed, in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo ever since.

Now, scientists say the boy was buried with a trove of 49 protective amulets, many of which are made of gold. Placed in and around his body, the amulets were meant to aid the teen in his journey to the afterlife, according to a study published Tuesday in Frontiers in Medicine.

“Ancient Egyptians believed in the power of amulets, which depended on its material, color and shape,” Sahar Saleem, the study’s first author and a radiologist at the Faculty of Medicine of Cairo University in Egypt, tells Insider’s Marianne Guenot. “During mummification, the embalmers said prayers and recited verses from the ‘Book of the Dead’ while placing amulets inside the mummy or in between the wrappings.”

Scan of a mummified body
CT scans revealed dozens of amulets placed in three columns inside and around the body. SN Saleem, SA Seddik, M el-Halwagy

Researchers used CT scans to learn more about the teen, nicknamed the “Golden Boy” for his gold mask and amulets. In the past, mummified remains were subject to unwrapping and invasive dissection for research or entertainment, write the authors. But now, CT scanning has allowed scientists to “digitally unwrap” mummified remains to reveal important details while keeping the body intact.

The new scans show the mummy’s amulets were placed in a unique three-column arrangement. They are 21 different shapes and sizes, each revealing more about the beliefs ancient Egyptians held surrounding death and the afterlife. 

For example, a golden tongue amulet placed inside the boy’s mouth was meant to ensure he could speak in the afterlife, while an Isis knot invoked the protective power of the Egyptian goddess Isis. A right-angle amulet was used to bring balance and leveling to the deceased.

Inside the chest cavity, a golden scarab beetle “silenced the heart on Judgement Day, so as not to bear witness against the deceased,” Saleem explains in a statement. “It was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to substitute for the heart if the body was ever deprived of this organ.” Using data from the CT scans, researchers were able to create a 3D-printed replica of the golden heart scarab, which had engraved marks that may represent ritual inscriptions to protect the heart.

The boy was laid inside two coffins and was wearing white sandals, which the ancient Egyptians believed would allow him to walk out of his coffins, “pious and clean,” per the paper. 

“It is good to see such scanning techniques used to examine the way these characteristic amulets were placed at specific points on the body where they served a protective purpose,” Joann Fletcher, an Egyptologist at the University of York who was not involved with the study, tells NBC News’ Charlene Gubash and Aina J. Khan. “All too often in the past, they’ve been removed from their original context on the body and are therefore seen as little more than pieces of jewelry, which is to misunderstand their actual purpose as a potent amulet.”

Researchers believe the Golden Boy was of high socioeconomic status because of the presence of golden amulets and a “lavish gilded mask,” they write in the study. He was a little over 4 feet tall, about 14 to 15 years old and not circumcised—which may suggest he was not Egyptian, writes the Guardian’s Matthew Weaver. His face is oval-shaped with a small nose, narrow chin and partly opened eyes, per the study, and his cause of death is unknown. 

“It’s very nice to have a study with this level of detail,” Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo who was not involved in the study, tells the Guardian. “It is part of building up a larger data set for Egyptologists to better understand the lives of ancient people and their religious and cultural beliefs.”