The political turmoils of the last handful of years in Egypt has crippled the country’s tourism industry. With that, for many the fascination of the pyramids, mummies and Pharaohs has been replaced by images of protests and military regimes replacing the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the imprisonment of journalists. This, however, has not been extended to researchers at Macquarie University who have continued their work which culminated in their findings being published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE this week.

Mummification

Their theory

Previous research placed the beginning of mummification at around 2,200 B.C. but by studying bodies found in ancient Egyptian graves up to 6,000 years ago, it appears that mummification was already being practiced between 4,500 B.C. and 3,350 B.C. The group noticed what they believed to have been tree resin (used in the mummification process) amongst the remains of ancient bodies recovered in the 1920s and 30s from Mostagedda.

The group began collecting 150 linen samples from the recovered bodies and enlisted the help of archeological chemists at York University to run a series of tests employing both gas chromatography and mass spectrometry which revealed “a base of fat or oil mixed with resin from pine trees, aromatic plant extracts, plant gum or sugar and a natural petroleum.” Essentially, the same ingredients used thousands of years later in mummification according to the team.

“We’ve found experimentation in preservation was taking place in a tribal, prehistoric society some 1,500 years before the practice was regularly accepted to have begun,” said Dr Jana Jones, the lead author of the study.

Further study on mummification in Australia

Many of the artifacts studied were being studied in Britain’s Bolton museum of which 92 were allowed to travel with Dr. Jones back to Australia for further analysis.

“There was no fundamental change in the embalming mixture used some 3,000 years later,” she said.

“The differences lay in substitution of an ingredient, but it already contained the empirical science that would become true mummification.”

The good doctor believes that these samples came from the privileged class.

“They were in graves that had more offerings than others,” Jones said. “Such as a child buried with a pet gazelle and a lot of jewellery.

“I believe they were special members of a society.”

At the end of the day, It’s nice to hear of something other than politics coming out of Egypt these days.