- German chemistry scientists are looking into one of Ancient Egypt's best kept secrets; how has it been possible to preserve the up to 4000 year old mummies until today? A newly found unused 3500-year-old embalming tar gave the answer.
A chemical analysis of the shrine with unused embalming resins from the 18th Dynasty (around 1500 BC) found that the conservation mass have been made from a cedar wood extract. The extract in turn contained strong preservatives that take immediate effect on the dead human body and induce a process of mummification.
So far, the prevalent opinion among Egyptologists had been that resins from juniper wood had been distilled to produce the balm. The team from the German universities of Tübingen and Munich however had found traces of chemicals that had to originate from cedar, according to a statement from the research team.
The reason Egyptologists until now had believed in the use of juniper resin for mummification in particular stemmed from the many findings of ancient mummies holding juniper berries in their dried hands. In addition to this, researchers had been confused by inaccuracies in the old Greek language, which uses the same term - kedros - for both cedar and juniper.
The research team headed by Ulrich Weser had based its studies on the recent discovery of unused embalming resins in the grave of the mummy "Saankh Kare" in Deir el-Bahari, Egypt. Using gas chromatography they could prove that the substance contained several chemical substances originating from juniper wood.
The team also was able to confirm earlier science results, proving that the process of embalming in Ancient Egypt was more sophisticated than originally thought. Mr Weser was for example able to establish the existence of the strong preservative Guaiacol in the balm fluid.
Laboratory tests done with Guaiacol and other substances found in the ancient resin showed amazingly strong preserving effects. A pig's bone was covered with each one of these substances for 35 days and preserved in room temperature. Guaiacol had shown an immediate effect of conservation activities on the bone, the German biochemists found.
The findings of the Tübingen study are to be presented in the next edition of the scientific journal 'Nature', the team stated. They did not comment on whether the findings could be found to have any practical uses in the modern world.
In Ancient Egypt, on the other hand, the well-developed embalming techniques were of utmost importance. Religious beliefs in this sophisticated culture were based on the worshiping of the forefathers and their eternal life in another sphere. It was therefore an urgent necessity to embalm the deceased ones to conserve their bodies, thus securing them eternal life.
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