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Egyptian Mummification Began 1500 years Earlier than Current Estimates

Aug 14, 2014 05:16 AM EDT
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Mummification in Egypt started 1500 years earlier than previously assumed, researchers say.

The study - conducted by researchers at the Universities of York, Macquarie and Oxford - pushes the origin of mummies at least a millennium ago.

Current theories suggest that people began mummifying the dead during the late Old Kingdom (c. 2200 BC) or Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1600 BC).

But, now researchers have found that people were using herbs and linen to wrap the dead in the earliest recorded ancient cemeteries at Mostagedda, in the region of Upper Egypt. The ancient wrappings used in the study date back to around 3700 BC.

"For over a decade I have been intrigued by early and cryptic reports of the methods of wrapping bodies at the Neolithic cemeteries at Badari and Mostagedda," said Dr Jana Jones of Macquarie University, Sydney, according to a news release.

The researchers used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and sequential thermal desorption/pyrolysis to analyze the compounds present in the wrappings.

The team found that antibacterial agents were used to preserve the dead bodies. The embalming agents or the technique used wasn't as elaborate as those used in the time of Pharos. Nonetheless, the bodies analyzed in the research came from a period 1,500 years earlier than Egyptian mummification, Reuters reported.

Ingredients used to mummify bodies included pine resin, an aromatic plant extract, wax, and a plant gum or sugar - combined into a base of plant oil or animal fat, according to abc.news.

"The antibacterial properties of some of these ingredients and the localised soft-tissue preservation that they would have afforded lead us to conclude that these represent the very beginnings of experimentation that would evolve into the mummification practice of the Pharaonic period," said Dr Stephen Buckley, a Research Fellow at the University of York. Buckey designed the experiment and conducted the chemical research. 

The study is published in the journal PLOS One

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