When a body was mummified in ancient Egypt, its organs were placed in canopic jars, and its body was packed with natron before being wrapped in bandages to dry. The resulting preservation process has proven robust enough to keep a body intact for millennia. Though the body—and its pieces—survive, the person’s identity and story are often lost to time.
Mummy feet were collected as souvenirs and keepsakes as imperialist explorers invaded Ancient Egyptian tombs and pillaged artifacts from North Africa. Human remains weren’t always given the respect their age deserved. Some mummies were unwrapped for public entertainment, and others were even used as fertilizer to grow crops.
This foot was probably cut off so that it would make for an easier curio to transport and display. Curiously, a mummy foot was the centerpiece of an 1840 gothic short story simply titled, The Mummy’s Foot. The story focuses on a collector obtaining a mummy’s foot from a curiosity shop with plans to use it as a paperweight.
While the main character of the short first describes the foot as something akin to a foot of Venus or polished bronze, he quickly realizes it is the foot of a mummy:
I was surprised at its lightness. It was not a foot of metal, but in sooth a foot of flesh, an embalmed foot, a mummy’s foot. On examining it still more closely the very grain of the skin, and the almost imperceptible lines impressed upon it by the texture of the bandages, became perceptible. The toes were slender and delicate, and terminated by perfectly formed nails, pure and transparent as agates. The great toe, slightly separated from the rest, afforded a happy contrast, in the antique style, to the position of the other toes, and lent it an aerial lightness–the grace of a bird’s foot. The sole, scarcely streaked by a few almost imperceptible cross lines, afforded evidence that it had never touched the bare ground, and had only come in contact with the finest matting of Nile rushes and the softest carpets of panther skin.
The man takes the foot home but is beset by dreams that take him across the continent to Egypt where he meets the owner of the foot, Princess Hermonthis, the daughter of a Pharaoh, who is none too happy that her foot has been stolen and used as a paperweight.
He promises to return the foot but asks for the princess’s hand in marriage in exchange. Her father, however, will have none of it, remarking that Hermonthis is nearly 30 centuries the man’s elder. Instead, she offers him a statuette. When the man awakes the next morning, it appears to have all been a dream, except the foot on his desk has been replaced by the same statuette from his dreams.
While this story was never meant to have been anything more than for entertainment, it’s quite possible that it spurred on the actions of real collectors in Europe. Our mummy foot is believed to have once belonged to a British physician in the 1800s. Dated to somewhere in the 12th or 13th dynasties, another curious possibility also exists.
Around the same time, a region known as Armant was an important part of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. In the ruins of the city, archaeologists have uncovered pieces of a statue, showing just the feet of the city-state’s princess. Believe It or Not!, the Greek name for Armant was Hermonthis. The feet they found are of the princess of Hermonthis!
Whether this influenced the author of the story is unknown, but the idea that Ripley’s could possess the foot of the princess seems possible, despite however much improbable. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below, and we’ll let you know if a statuette ever shows up in its place.