Mummification in Egypt may have begun 1,500 years earlier than we previously thought, new evidence shows.
Evidence discovered by researchers at the Universities of York, Macquarie and Oxford suggest that Egyptians have been mummifying their dead for long before we previously thought.
This discovery is the result of an 11-year study done by researchers. It was previously believed that between approximately 4500 and 3100 BCE (before the Common Era), Egyptians disposed of their bodies through natural processes of the desert sand, which was hot and dry.
There was no scientific evidence to date intentional mummification through the use of resins to earlier than circa 2200 BCE. However, this new study suggests that Egyptians had the technology to mummify bodies with resin over a thousand years before this.
The team found embalming chemicals in ancient Egyptian bodies from tombs at Mostagedda, one of the earliest Egyptian cemeteries recorded.
"For over a decade I have been intrigued by early and cryptic reports of the methods of wrapping bodies at the Neolithic cemeteries at Badari and Mostagedda," said Dr Jana Jones. Jones works at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
"In 2002, I examined samples of funerary textiles from these sites that had been sent to various museums in the United Kingdom through the 1930s from Egypt," Jones added. "Microscopic analysis with my colleague Mr Ron Oldfield revealed resins were likely to have been used, but I wasn't able to confirm my theories, or their full significance, without tapping into my York colleague's unique knowledge of ancient organic compounds."
Jones led the research study with Dr. Stephen Buckley, who works at the University of York.
The pair used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and sequential thermal desorption/pyrolysis to find traces of resin, and a natural petroleum in the bodies' wrappings.
These findings are over a millennium older than the earliest scientific evidence that preceded it. The traces of chemicals they found match those used in ancient Egypt 3,000 years later. They were complex embalming agents, the scientists say.
The team speculated that the chemicals they found are most likely the earliest trials of mummification of the Egyptians.
Professor Thomas Higham, who works at the University of Oxford and studies mummies, commented that this finding shows the potential for new information to be discovered about ancient Egypt and other things in the past by studying old artifacts with new scientific tools.
"Our ground-breaking results show just what can be achieved through interdisciplinary collaboration between the sciences and the humanities," said Dr Jones.