A SEVERED hand wasn’t what Stef Vincent expected to find in a plastic box as she went about her job at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

The collections project manager was sorting through objects in the cramped stores at the building in Bath Road when she made the gruesome discovery.

Peeling away the lid of the box she found a withered ancient Egyptian hand, which museum staff now know belonged to a woman mummified thousands of years ago.

It was a chance discovery for Stef, 35, who has worked at the Bath Road museum since 2014.

“I was tidying up in the stores and found a box that said: ‘Mummy’s hand with original packing’,” she said.

Stef removed the box’s lid and thought to herself: “I thought: ‘that’s a new hand’. I wondered if it was part of a pair.”

The museum originally had a pair of hands but mislaid one.

But a quick check confirmed that both were left hands. Stef sent the new hand to the scientists at Cranfield, who confirmed it was a human hand that came from a different person.

“They were very excited,” said Stef.

The ghoulish find was one of a dozen objects Stef showed off to curious visitors on Thursday evening.

The experienced museum worker, who began her career as an archaeologist and has a particular interest in human remains, spoke about her work at the museum. The talk was organised by the Friends of Museum and Art Gallery.

Since 2014 Stef has been sorting through Swindon’s groaning collections which boast everything from sketches by world-renowned artist Lucien Freud to a rare Roman wine strainer.

When she started, Stef was told that the museum had a collection of 60,000 objects. Now, she said, they think it’s more like 100,000.

“There were big parts of the collection we just didn’t know very much about,” she said.

Helped by 25 volunteers, Stef is now going back through the collection – labelling, photographing and re-packaging every item.

The work is already helping academics access the collection and use it to help their research.

Currently, shards of Roman pottery from the museum are being analysed by scientists to find out how people’s diet changed before, during and after the Roman occupation of Britain.

Stef says Victorian underwear was once the enemy of curators everywhere. The museum has around 15 pairs of pants dating from the 19th century.

“I think there was just a period when they were ‘old’, so everybody offered them to the museum.”

The experienced collections manager told her audience that a hoped-for new state-of-the-art Swindon Museum could include more storage space, either at the museum or off-site.