The Week - Junior

Ancient mummifying goo tells secrets


Animal fat to stop the smell of a rotting body, beeswax to treat the skin and pistachio resin for the head. These are just some of the things ancient Egyptians used to mummify (preserve) their dead. Scientists from the University of Tübingen, in Germany, discovered the ingredient­s when they studied clay jars found in Egypt.

Archaeolog­ists (scientists who study ancient man-made objects to understand history) explored a huge burial site in Saqqarah, Egypt, in 2018. They found 31 clay jars in what would have been a place for embalming (a process that preserves the body after death). Written on the jars were instructio­ns about what the contents did and how or where to use them.

Ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife, and that only preserved bodies could reach it, so rich people, like pharaohs (rulers), would be embalmed after their death. The experts who did the embalming used a mixture of chemicals to stop the body from rotting. As they were embalming the body they also read out religious texts, believing that this would help the person on their journey to the afterlife. The whole process could take up to 70 days.

Dr Maxime Rageot and his team analysed the residue (the bit left behind) in the jars, which date back more than 2,500 years. By using a technique (method) that separates chemicals, the scientists were able to tell what had been stored in the jars.

For years, people have thought that the ingredient Egyptians called “antiu” was made from frankincen­se and myrrh (substances used in perfumes and medicines). However, the tests showed that antiu was actually a mixture of natural oils from cedar trees and juniper berries, with some animal fat. The jars’ contents revealed how far goods were transporte­d and sold. Some of the ingredient­s must have been brought thousands of miles, such as dammar resin from a tree that only grows in Southeast Asia.

 ?? ?? Embalmers at work preserving bodies.
Embalmers at work preserving bodies.
 ?? ?? Some of the embalming jars.
Some of the embalming jars.

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