Evidence for prehistoric origins of Egyptian mummification in late Neolithic burials

Jana Jones, Thomas F G Higham, Ron Oldfield, Terry P. O'Connor, Stephen A. Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Traditional theories on ancient Egyptian mummification postulate that in the prehistoric period (i.e. the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, 5 th and 4th millennia B.C.) bodies were naturally desiccated through the action of the hot, dry desert sand. Although molding of the body with resin-impregnated linen is believed to be an early Pharaonic forerunner to more complex processes, scientific evidence for the early use of resins in artificial mummification has until now been limited to isolated occurrences during the late Old Kingdom (c. 2200 B.C.), their use becoming more apparent during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1600 BC). We examined linen wrappings from bodies in securely provenanced tombs (pit graves) in the earliest recorded ancient Egyptian cemeteries at Mostagedda in the Badari region (Upper Egypt). Our investigations of these prehistoric funerary wrappings using a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and thermal desorption/pyrolysis (TD/Py)-GC-MS have identified a pine resin, an aromatic plant extract, a plant gum/sugar, a natural petroleum source, and a plant oil/animal fat in directly AMS-dated funerary wrappings. Predating the earliest scientific evidence by more than a millennium, these embalming agents constitute complex, processed recipes of the same natural products, in similar proportions, as those utilized at the zenith of Pharaonic mummification some 3,000 years later. The antibacterial properties of some of these ingredients and the localized soft-tissue preservation that they would have afforded lead us to conclude that these represent the very beginnings of experimentation that would evolve into the famous mummification practice of the Pharaonic period.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere103608
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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