Since 1929, the renowned State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, – the largest museum of art and culture in the world – has displayed an Egyptian mummy that was believed to be a female singer from 1000 BCE. That alone made the mummy a popular attraction … once the pyramids were built, the pharaohs apparently had plenty of time for song and dance. A recent MRI scan of the mummy will probably make it even more popular – the scan determined that the body inside was not a female but a castrated male. Will this be the plot of a new mummy musical called “Tut/Toots”?
"The fact that the man was castrated surprised us a lot; it was not a common practice in Egypt, it is unique."
At a press conference this week, Andrey Bolshakov, a museum official, gave the details of this startling discovery. When the mummy was acquired in 1929, the paperwork said it came from the temple of Amon-Ra, which is part of the Temple of Karnak, the second-largest ancient religious site in the world (after Angkor Wat), in what is now the village of El-Karnak, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) north of Luxor. The mummy was believed to be a high-status female singer named Babat. “High status” means she was probably a temple singer, a position almost always held by women. Uh-oh.
As part of its research, the museum had taken the mummy to St. Petersburg’s Clinical Hospital for an MRI scan to obtain more information about the remains without doing any physical harm. They obviously never expected it would cause historical harm. The MRI shows that the remains were from a 35-to-40-year-old man, about 5’7” (170 cm) in height, with some joint disease, good teeth … and no sexual organs.
The scan results were not enough to determine if the castration took place before or after death – a bone analysis would be required to measure the level of testosterone , with a low level indicating that the man had been castrated when alive and young.
Was Babat a eunuch? That’s possible – so-called “castrato” singers were common in the Catholic Church when women were not allowed to sing during services. However, the museum’s surprise at the find makes this unlikely. A more probable explanation is that the bodies were switched long before the mummy arrived in Russia.
It appears the State Hermitage Museum plans to keep the castrated mummy on display – with a new label and description. That either means they see it as an important discovery in Egyptology … or they didn’t save the receipt.