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The organic chemistry of embalming agents in Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman mummies

Buckley, S.A. and Evershed, R.P. (2001) The organic chemistry of embalming agents in Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman mummies. Nature, 413 (6858). pp. 837-841. ISSN 0028-0836

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Chemical treatments were an essential element of ancient Egyptian mummification. Although the inorganic salt natron is recognized as having a central role as a desiccant, without the application of organic preservatives the bodies would have decomposed in the humid environment of the tombs. The nature of the organic treatments remains obscure, because the ancient Egyptians left no written record of the process. Secondary textual evidence for mummification is provided by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus4, Strabo and Pliny. The most important account is that of Herodotus3 (about 450 yr bc), although archaeological evidence shows that by this time the process had declined significantly and the best results had been achieved centuries before. His account mentions myrrh, cassia, palm wine, 'cedar oil' (still widely disputed) and 'gum'; however, it is vague with respect to the specific natural products used. Here we report the results of chemical investigations of a substantial collection of samples of tissues, wrappings and 'resinous/bituminous' materials from provenanced and dated Egyptian mummies. We focused on examples of the 'classic' mummy-making culture of the Pharaonic or dynastic period, from which we can begin to track the development of mummification chronologically.

Item Type: Article
Institution: The University of York
Academic Units: The University of York > Archaeology (York)
Depositing User: York RAE Import
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2009 11:57
Last Modified: 07 Apr 2009 11:57
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/35101588
Status: Published
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
Identification Number: 10.1038/35101588
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7092

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