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Mummified Beef Jerky Found In Pyramids

Ancient Egyptians mummified their meat with precious resins

by Sarah Everts
November 25, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 47

Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Preserved beef found in the tomb of Egyptian Queen Tiye.
A mummified piece of salted beef found in an ancient Egyptian tomb.
Credit: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Preserved beef found in the tomb of Egyptian Queen Tiye.

Ancient Egyptians sent their elite to the afterlife well stocked for a long journey, with items as varied as jewels, hair combs, and even mummified beef jerky. Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Bristol’s Richard P. Evershed has found that, in some cases, the embalming agents used to preserve meat were more valuable than ones commonly used to mummify people (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1315160110). The team determined that one sample of desiccated, salted meat was preserved with a resin derived from the plant genus Pistacia, which includes pistachio nut plants. In ancient Egypt, Pistacia resins were luxury items used to flavor meat, preserve wine, and produce incense. The team identified oleanonic acid, isomasticadienoic acid, and other organic molecules indicative of ­Pistacia resins in a mummified meat sample found in the tomb of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III, whose decades-long reign is known for being a particularly prosperous era. Her high status may explain why the beef in her tomb was treated with Pistacia resins instead of the animal fat used to preserve meat mummies that were buried with less important people, the researchers note.


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