Surprising mummy materials found in ancient Egyptian workshop

Surprising mummy materials found in ancient Egyptian workshop
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In a 2,600-year-old embalming workshop, scientists discovered the materials needed to make mummies: tars, fats, tree resins, and oils that the ancient Egyptians used to preserve bodies and prepare them for the afterlife.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal NatureHe argues that the materials used to make Egyptian mummies – at least in this workshop – are the product of a remarkably global supply chain that relies on trade with the Mediterranean, the rest of Africa, and perhaps even Asia to obtain specific ingredients with antifungal and antibacterial properties. features.

“That’s really the fascinating part about 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 this far to get these particular natural products from these particular countries and not other countries in between, that means they meant it, it wasn’t just done as a trial and error… They knew the microbiology.”

a handful mummification guidesalong with chemical studies of selected mummies – Have long They became the main windows into the mysterious and detailed 70-day body drying and preservation process. Then, in 2016, archaeologists unearthed an underground mummification workshop located a stone’s throw away from the famous pyramids. saccharineThe necropolis of Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital.

The site features more than 100 vessels, including clay beakers and red bowls, and some have labels describing how the contents should be used in the mummification process: “to put on the head” or “to make it smell pleasant” or to protect the liver. .

With these inscribed containers, scientists can conduct chemical analyzes of the remains inside to try to reconstruct their original contents. The result is a highly specialized window into the mummy-making process.

“What I love about archeology is that we have all these texts that refer to mummification, but this single archaeological discovery gives us these great insights that you can’t get from the text,” said Egyptologist Stuart Tyson Smith of the University of California, Santa Barbara. who was not involved. “The physicality of it, these materials associated with it, give us a really rich insight into the process of preserving this body.”

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The study provides a wealth of interesting information about how the ancient Egyptians sourced embalming materials.

Natural bitumen, a tar-like substance, is thought to have come from the Dead Sea. By-products of juniper and cypress trees and resin of the flowering plant genus. Peanut probably from the Mediterranean region. They also used resin from elemi, a tree that grows in rainforests in Africa and Asia.

Most interestingly, scientists found vascular resin from a family of trees that grow in forests in India and Southeast Asia.

“The embalming industry was the impetus that drove early globalization forward because that meant you really had to transport these resins across great distances — from Southeast Asia to Egypt,” said the study’s co-author. Philipp W. Stockhammer, archaeologist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Stockhammer believes this is happening through a trade network that now stretches from southern India and the northern Gulf region to Egypt.

But Smith said he wasn’t fully convinced of the dammar result, which was the only component found in only one sample and required a trade route to Asia. After thousands of years, the remains are old and deteriorated, so chemical analysis can give clues about what was inside the ships, but not definitive readings. This makes room for scientific debate as to whether a residue is a chemical fingerprint of a particular plant.

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

The new study challenges other long-held assumptions about ancient Egypt. In the texts, “antiu” was long thought to be a word meaning myrrh. But at Saqqara, the five vessels labeled antiu actually contained a mixture of animal fat and oil or tar from cedar, juniper and cypress trees. Likewise, “safety” is thought to refer to a holy oil, but the three vessels with this label are animal fats combined with plant additives suggesting it could be a scented ointment instead.

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Sofie Schiødt, Egyptologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, BC. He said the finds would raise questions about how unique the discoveries at Saqqara were to the site all of a sudden.

Antiu’s composition, he said, “is nothing really close to what we expect. The question is, why do we find this inconsistency?

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

“This new study is really important because it gives us so much new tangible evidence,” Schiødt said. Said. “But it doesn’t really match what we were hoping to find, so what does that mean?”

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