Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mummification Two Thousand Years Older

Recent chemical analysis has revealed that the formal Egyptian mummification process may be as much as two thousand years older than archaeologists previously believed. Mummies from the earliest known burials dating back as far as 4500 BC were found to have been embalmed with similar resins to those used in later mummifications. The resins were clearly deliberately applied, meaning that Egyptian mummification technology goes back much further than original estimates.

It had been assumed that before about 2500 BC, when Egyptians wanted to mummify their dead, they placed the wrapped bodies outside and let the hot, dry air and desert sand do the hard work. Deliberate mummification with preserving oils and resins was thought to be a much later development.

But the earliest known Egyptian burials date from 4500 to 3350 BC. These led some Egyptologists to suspect that mummification began early, but there was no hard evidence of this. For the first time, the bandages, skin and wadding from these ancient burials have been chemically analysed.

Stephen Buckley of the University of York in the UK and his colleagues used chromatography to identify a sticky, toffee-like resin found on linen wrappings on bodies from the El-Badari region of southern Egypt.

The resin contained "the same ingredients in roughly the same proportions" as found in much later deliberate mummifications, says Buckley. The mix of plant oils, animal fats, sugars, coniferous resins, natural petroleum and aromatic antibacterial agents would have made a poultice that repelled insects and preserved flesh.

Graham Hancock has written a whole series of books based on the notion that ancient civilizations were far more advanced than what is generally accepted by scholars. I agree with him, with a few caveats. There's no evidence whatsoever that a modern level of technology existed at some point in the ancient past, but at the same time too many modern people assume that the ancients were idiots.

They were not. The Egyptians in particular seem to have been geniuses at employing elements like water and sand to accomplish technological achievements that we only figured out in the 1970's. Apparently embalming is yet another area at which even Egyptians of the far distant past excelled.

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