Coffin and skeleton of a child

From Speos Artemidos, Egypt
22nd Dynasty, around 850 BC

An ancient case of 'brittle bone' disease

This cartonnage coffin contains the bones of an infant skeleton, but it was clearly originally intended for an older child. The double plume which was originally fixed on the brow of the coffin would have made it resemble a figure of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, a hollow statue designed to contain the papyrus sheets of the Book of the Dead.

The bones of the infant are so badly deformed that the excavator, John Garstang originally identified them as those of a monkey. In fact, the baby suffered from the rare disorder osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as 'brittle bone disease'. This condition is due to the inadequate formation of bone tissue, resulting in distortion of the bones. This can be seen clearly in the skull, which has become very low and broad, and the upper arms, thighs and lower legs, all of which have become curved. They would never have been able to bear any weight. The bones are so fragile that they can be fractured while the foetus is still in the womb. The birth process could fracture all the bones in the baby's body. Today, a baby with this disorder would be delivered by caesarean section. In ancient times it is very unlikely that the child would survive the birth.

Find in the collection online

Coffin and skeleton of a child

Childs coffin

  • Infant's skull

    Infant's skull

  • Infant's skeleton next to the coffin

    Infant's skeleton next to the coffin


More information


J. Filer, Disease, (Egyptian Bookshelf) (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

W.R. Dawson and P.H.K. Gray, Catalogue of Egyptian antiquit (London, 1968)


Length: 73.000 cm (max.)

Museum number

EA 41603



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore