Surprising mummy ingredients found in an ancient Egyptian workshop

Surprising mummy ingredients found in an ancient Egyptian workshop
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In a 2,600-year-old embalming workshop, scientists discovered the ingredients for making mummies: the resins, fats, resins and oils used by the ancient Egyptians to preserve corpses and prepare them for the afterlife.

The findings were published in the journal Wednesday natureThe materials used to prepare Egyptian mummies – at least in this workshop – suggest that they were the product of a highly global supply chain based on trade with the Mediterranean, the rest of Africa and possibly Asia to obtain specific antifungal and antibacterial ingredients. properties.

“That’s really the fascinating part of it,” said Mahmoud M. Bahgat, a biochemist at the National Research Center in Cairo and a member of the research team. “If the Egyptians went so far as to get these particular natural products from these countries and not from other countries, they meant it, it wasn’t just done as trial and error… They knew about microbiology.”

A handful packing instructionsalong with chemical studies of selected mummies – there is long The 70 days were key windows into the mysterious and complex process of drying and preserving corpses. Then, in 2016, archaeologists discovered an underground embalming workshop located a stone’s throw from the famous pyramids. saqqaraNecropolis for Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt.

There are more than 100 vessels on the site, including clay cups and red vessels, with some labels explaining how the contents should be used in the embalming process: “to put on the head” or “to make the smell pleasant” or to protect the liver.

Through these inscribed containers, scientists could perform chemical analyzes of the remains and attempt to reconstruct their original contents. The result is a unique window into the mummy-making process.

“What I love about archeology is that we have all these texts about mummification, but this one archaeological discovery gives us these great insights that you don’t get from a text,” said Stuart Tyson Smith, an Egyptologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. non-interfering. “The physicality of it, these materials associated with it, give us a really rich sense of the body’s preservation process.”

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The research provides a lot of interesting information about how the ancient Egyptians obtained their embalming materials.

Natural bitumen, a tar-like substance, is believed to come from the Dead Sea. The by-products of juniper and cypress trees and flowering plants are called resin Pistachio It probably originated in the Mediterranean region. They also used the resin of the elemi tree, which grows in the tropical forests of Africa and Asia.

Most interestingly, scientists have found dammar resin, which comes from a tree family that grows in the forests of India and Southeast Asia.

“The resin industry drove early globalization because it really needed to transport these resins over great distances—from Southeast Asia to Egypt,” said the study’s co-author. Philipp W. Stockhammer, archaeologist at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Stockhammer believes that this happened through a trade network that stretched from what is now southern India and the northern Gulf to Egypt.

But Smith said he wasn’t entirely sure about the result of dammar, the only ingredient found in only one sample that required a trade route to Asia. After thousands of years, the remains are old and degraded, so chemical analysis can give hints about what was once inside the vessels, but not solid indicators. This leaves room for scientific debate as to whether or not the residue is the chemical fingerprint of a particular plant.

For example, Smith noted that some chemical analyzes could be interpreted as evidence that the Egyptians imported plants found in modern America. “We know there was no cross-trade between the old world and the new world, so they dismissed it as a hypothesis,” Smith said.

New research challenges other long-held assumptions about ancient Egypt. In texts, “antiu” was long considered a word meaning myrrh. But five vessels labeled antiu at Saqqara actually contained a mixture of animal fat and oil or resin from cedar, juniper, and cypress trees. Likewise, the “basket” is thought to refer to holy oil, but in three containers with this label animal fats can be combined with vegetable additives to make a fragrant conifer instead.

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Sofie Schiødt, an Egyptologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, studied an embalming manual dating to around 1450 BC. said the findings would raise questions about how site-specific the discoveries at Saqqara were at one time.

The antiu composition, he said, “is not really anything close to what we would expect. The question is, why do we find this discrepancy?”

One option, he said, is that years of studying the texts are simply wrong. But it’s also possible that there’s something unique about the vessels on this site, or that the ingredients used – or the word itself – have evolved over time.

“This new study is really important because it gives us new very substantial evidence,” Schiødt said. “But it doesn’t really match what we expected to find, so what does that mean?”

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