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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Revealed: Secrets of the Ancient Egyptian embalmers

Chemical tests on a 5,700-year-old mummy reveal linen soaked in plant-based recipe

The mummified remains of a man in his 20s date back some 5,700 years. Dr Stephen Buckley
The mummified remains of a man in his 20s date back some 5,700 years. Dr Stephen Buckley

The embalming recipe of the ancient Egyptians has been revealed during chemical tests that showed the practice of mummification began more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.

A multinational team of researchers discovered that a preserved body dating back some 5,700 years had been wrapped in linen impregnated with conifer resin, plant oil, aromatic plant extracts and a gum.

The discovery indicated that the art was being practised long before the golden era of the pharaohs, and using similar ingredients to those used some 2,500 years later at the peak of embalming expertise. Mummification in general was believed to have started some 4,600 years ago when the Great Pyramid of Giza was being built, according to researchers.

The latest discovery, by researchers from universities in the UK, Australia and Italy, also suggests mummification was more geographically widespread than previously thought.

The body was found in southern Egypt during a period when the concept of a pan-Egyptian identity was still emerging.

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Read more:

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The tests were carried out on a mummy housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin since 1901 that had never had any conservation treatment, allowing for accurate scientific analysis.

It had been previously assumed that the body had been naturally mummified because of the hot and dry desert sand.

The tests indicated that the conifer resin mixed with the plant oil would have given the mixture anti-bacterial qualities that would have prevented the body from decaying, the researchers said.

Tests also included radiocarbon dating, genetic tests and microscopic examination of the linen which indicated that the man was aged between 20 and 30 when he died.

“Our findings represent the literal embodiment of the forerunners of classic mummification, which would become one of the central and iconic pillars of ancient Egyptian culture,” said Dr Stephen Buckley, of the University of York, who was involved in the research.