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From the ruins of an embalming workshop, scientists have found the substances and concoctions historic Egyptians used to mummify the lifeless.
Whereas students had beforehand discovered the names of drugs used to embalm the lifeless from Egyptian texts, they had been — till not too long ago — solely capable of guess at precisely what compounds and supplies they referred to. Now, molecular evaluation of residues in pots excavated from a website found in 2016 in Saqqara, an historic burial floor, has revealed some solutions.
A complete of 121 vessels had been recovered from the subterranean embalming workshop, which was used within the seventh and sixth century BC. In analysis printed Wednesday within the scientific journal Nature, the scientists primarily based in Germany and Egypt studied natural residues in 31 of the pots that had been most clearly labeled.
They revealed historic Egyptians used all kinds of drugs to anoint the physique after dying, to scale back disagreeable smells and defend it from fungi, micro organism and putrefaction. Supplies recognized embrace plant oils comparable to juniper, cypress and cedar in addition to resins together with from pistachio bushes, animal fats and beeswax.
Archaeologists had been additionally capable of decide which specific substances had been used to protect completely different physique components. (Pistachio resin and castor oil, for instance, had been used just for the top.)
“I used to be fascinated by this chemical data,” Philipp Stockhammer, a professor of prehistoric archaeology of the jap Mediterranean at Ludwig Maximilian College in Munich and coauthor of the analysis, mentioned in a information briefing.
“They… knew what substances they wanted to placed on the pores and skin — antibacterial, antifungal substances — to maintain the pores and skin finest probably preserved with out having any microbiological background, with out even understanding about micro organism. This huge data was accrued over centuries.”
The findings additionally included that the substance referred to by the traditional Egyptians as “antiu,” and has been translated as myrrh or incense, was a mixture of a lot of completely different components: a mix of cedar oil, juniper and cypress oil and animal fat.
Coauthor Susanne Beck, a researcher within the Division of Egyptology and the curator of the Egyptian Assortment on the College of Tübingen in Germany, famous that it’s onerous to understand how universally the substances discovered on the Saqqara website had been used, nevertheless, as a result of only a few embalming workshops have been found.
The components used within the workshop had been diversified and sourced not simply from Egypt, however a lot additional afield. Whereas most of the substances had been from throughout the Mediterranean, additionally they discovered residues of dammar gum and elemi resin, which possible got here from the forests of southeast Asia, or probably tropical areas of Africa.
This, the researchers mentioned, revealed the long-distance trade of products — although extra work wanted to be carried out to grasp the precise properties of those substances and why they had been sourced from so distant.
“These resins present recent proof for long-distance commerce networks, and lift the query of how and when the Egyptians learnt of those resins and obtained a specialised understanding of their properties and relevance to mummification,” mentioned Salima Ikram, a distinguished professor of Egyptology at The American College in Cairo, in a commentary on the examine.
Ikram, who wasn’t concerned within the analysis, mentioned that Egyptians artificially preserved the corpses of people and animals with the purpose of offering a everlasting residence for his or her souls. The mummification course of, together with related rituals, normally took round 70 days and was thought to rework the deceased from an earthly to a divine being.