Extensive tests carried out on a pre-historic mummy in an Egyptian museum have provided scientists with the recipe used for ancient embalming.
The forensic chemical tests carried out on the mummy that dated from 3,700-3,500 BC have revealed that bodies were embalmed 1,500 years earlier than thought, according to the research findings that are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Dr Stephen Buckley, an archaeologist from the University of York, told news site BBC that this mummy, which is currently in an Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy “literally embodies the embalming that was at the heart of Egyptian mummification for 4,000 years”.
The 3,600-year-old mummy called Fred had not been touched by modern chemicals and had not been previously studied by scientists and was, therefore, an ideal subject for study, according to the research.
The basic recipe, after the tests, turned out to be: a plant oil – possibly sesame oil; a “balsam-type” plant or root extract that may have come from bullrushes; a plant-based gum – a natural sugar that may have been extracted from acacia; and, a conifer tree resin, which was probably pine resin.
When mixed into the oil, the resin would have given it antibacterial properties, protecting the body from decay, the research stated.
Co-author Jana Jones, who is an egyptologist at Macquarie University, said: “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.”
Jones, who, in the 1990s, also studied ancient mummy wrappings dating to about 6,600 years ago said they also showed remnants of an embalming resin, which reiterated the fact that the same embalming process had been followed by the Egyptians thousands of years earlier than previously thought.
Essentially, this showed how and when the Ancient Egyptians perfected an antibacterial embalming recipe that protected and preserved their dead, leaving behind the iconic Egyptian mummies that people are now used to.
A mummy, after being wrapped in resin bandages, would have been placed in hot sand so the balm preservatives could act to keep the body safe.
For later mummies, they were laid flat in tombs far from the sun and their brains and other organs were removed while a salt called natron was applied to dry the body.
The move was to preserve the body for the afterlife, and enable the spirit to have a place to reside, the research stated.