Mummy-Making Balm’s Origins Unraveled | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 92 Issue 34 | p. 23 | Concentrates
Issue Date: August 25, 2014

Mummification Balm Recipe Significantly Predates Pharaohs

Analysis of Stone Age Egyptian burial wrappings identifies chemical components of tissue-preserving resin
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Materials SCENE, Analytical SCENE
Keywords: cultural heritage, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, Egypt, mummy
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The inner layer of this predynastic Egyptian funeral linen (magnified 1.5 times) is impregnated with resin.
Credit: Ron Oldfield and Jana Jones
Two layers of a Stone Age (pre Pharaoh era) Egyptian burial wrapping, magnified 1.5 times. The inner layer is impregnated with resin.
 
The inner layer of this predynastic Egyptian funeral linen (magnified 1.5 times) is impregnated with resin.
Credit: Ron Oldfield and Jana Jones

Mummification may forever be linked with famous Egyptian pharaohs such as King Tut, but a study shows that Nile Valley dwellers developed a basic embalming recipe long before the first great kings. An analysis of prehistoric funeral wrappings using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry techniques pushes back the earliest known use of embalming resins more than 1,500 years to roughly 6,200 years ago. Scholars once assumed that burials prior to Egypt’s Old Kingdom some 4,500 years ago were preserved by the desert climate. But some Egyptologists, including Jana Jones of Australia’s Macquarie University, noticed toffeelike resins on Stone Age funerary linens and guessed there was more to the story. Stephen A. Buckley of the University of York, in England, working with Jones and colleagues to analyze the materials, found a complex mixture rich in diterpenoids indicative of pine resin, which is known to have tissue-preserving properties (PLOS One 2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103608). The mixture’s intricacy means that the resin was deliberately prepared, Buckley says.

 
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