Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Additional Ingredients for Recipe for Mummification Found

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Archeology, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

The recipe for the embalming chemicals used by the ancient Egyptians in preparing a mummy has some ingredients new-to-science. Ewen Callaway, writing for the journal Nature - News reports on the resins.

"Labelled pots found in a 2,500-year-old embalming workshop have revealed the plant and animal extracts used to prepare ancient Egyptian mummies — including ingredients originating hundreds and even thousands of kilometres away." 

"Chemical analysis of the pots' contents has identified complex mixtures of botanical resins and other substances, some of them from plants that grow as far away as southeast Asia."

The full technical research report, Nature, February 1, 2023, is available on-line (see the Callaway article for access). The research paper includes a labelled description of the embalming chamber, an illustration showing instructions for using the substances, a discussion of two confusing substance terms, a discussion of the economics of trade, and a map showing the origin of the ingredients. 
Callaway's article includes a lovely display of the various types of pots - large, small, variously colored, shapes - used for the storage of the ingredients. There is also an artist's impression of the embalmers at work in the embalming chamber.

Callaway notes the sophistication of the Egyptian embalmers who knew much about the properties of the raw materials, their use of heat or distillation techniques in extracting them, and that some had anti-microbial properties.

There are questions remaining including "how ancient Egyptians developed specific embalming procedures and recipes...why they selected certain ingredients over others." Study co-author Mahmoud Bahgat, a biochemist at Egypt's National Research Center in Cairo told reporters at a press briefing.  "'We need to be as clever as them to discover the intentions." This quote encapsulates the practice of science, then as a proto-science and now as a full-blown international science with the tools to do the research.

This research depended on the revolution known as molecular biology, techniques that have been put to all kinds of research uses.


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