After examining an Egyptian mummy from 3,700-3,500 BC and putting it through a wide variety of forensic chemical tests, archaeologists have finally discovered the embalming recipe that ancient Egyptians used to preserve their dead.
According to the BBC, the mummification recipe is actually much older than archaeologists had suspected and was also used in a much wider fashion than was previously thought as well.
Dr. Stephen Buckley, who is an archaeologist at the University of York, commented that the mummy that he and his team studied “literally embodies the embalming that was at the heart of Egyptian mummification for 4,000 years.”
Amazingly, Dr. Buckley and his research team have managed to discover the “fingerprint” of each and every chemical that was employed to preserve these ancient Egyptian mummies and has shared this embalming recipe in a new study.
In terms of the chemicals that were used to mummify Egypt’s dead, the embalmers would need plant oil, which may have been sesame oil. They also used a “balsam-type” root extract or plant and it is very possible that these came from the bullrushes. Egyptian embalmers also used a natural sugar that was in the form of a gum that came from plants, and this may have included acacia.
Perhaps one of the most important items needed to mummify Egyptians was conifer tree resin, which archaeologists believe was most likely pine resin. Embalmers would add the resin to the oil, and after this, the resin would be able to successfully keep the body from completely decaying as the mixture was filled with plenty of antibacterial properties.
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As Dr. Buckley explained, archaeologists have now finally discovered the recipe for mummification that was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt.
“Until now we’ve not had a prehistoric mummy that has actually demonstrated – so perfectly through the chemistry – the origins of what would become the iconic mummification that we know all about.”
Dr. Buckley’s team first began their quest for an embalming recipe many years ago, after examining textiles and the different chemicals that had been found inside them. As these textiles were once bound to mummies, archaeologists were curious about them.
It was also discovered that the textiles they were studying at this time were estimated to be from 4,000 BC, and ancient Egyptians weren’t believed to have started their embalming and mummification process at such an early date as this, according to Dr. Buckley.
“Mummification in general supposedly started around 2,600 BC – when the Great Pyramid was being built. But we observed that there was evidence that preservation of the body started earlier than this.”
To learn more about the start of Egyptian mummification, archaeologists examined a prehistoric mummy that was part of a collection at The Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy. At no point had archaeologists ever submitted it to any kind of conservation, which means that this mummy was as pure as could be and the perfect specimen to study.
Egyptologist Jana Jones has stated that the Turin mummy was crucial to extracting a precise recipe for ancient Egyptian mummification, which was obtained after rigorous scientific tests were conducted.
“The examination of the Turin body makes a momentous contribution to our limited knowledge of the prehistoric period and the expansion of early mummification practices as well as providing vital, new information on this particular mummy. By combining chemical analysis with visual examination of the body, genetic investigations, radiocarbon dating and microscopic analysis of the linen wrappings, we confirmed that this ritual mummification process took place around 3,600 BC on a male, aged between 20 and 30 years when he died.”
Amazingly, the same recipe for embalming that was used on this mummy continued to be practiced by ancient Egyptians even 2,000 years later.
As important as the embalming recipe was for these mummies, this was just one aspect of the mummification process. It was crucial that the brain and internal organs were removed from the deceased and that the body was completely dried out in salt.
Once this task was accomplished, the special embalming recipe was used and the bodies of the mummies were wrapped snugly in linen.
When contemplating the enormous effort that ancient Egyptians would have gone through to come up with the perfect mummification recipe, Dr. Buckley noted that this “mummification was at the heart of their culture. The afterlife was just a continuation of enjoying life. But they needed the body to be preserved in order for the spirit to have a place to reside.”