Care for some servings of beef, lamb, or perhaps, duck? These items are on the menu of the royal mummies found in Egyptian tombs. The "meat mummies" were treated with special balms and buried with the dead kings and queens, princes and princesses of the old world to provide sustenance as they travel through the afterlife. While the practice is of no surprise, a group of scientists conducted research as to how these pieces of meat were preserved.
Richard Evershed, a biogeochemist from the University of Bristol, and his team looked into the methods of mummification of the meats to find out how they differed from the Egyptian mummification of humans and pets. They looked into four samples that consist of cattle ribs, calf meat, goat, and duck.
Mummy meats are common in ancient tombs in Egypt. The oldest piece of it was traced to 3300 B.C. while the latest dates back to the time of the famous pharaoh King Tutankhamun, who was buried with 48 cases of poultry and beef.
"This unique research on the chemical composition of organic balms of food mummies completes the trilogy of mummy types known from the Ancient Egypt, complementing previous investigations of humans and animal mummies," the section discussing the significance of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stated.
"Our findings show that the Ancient Egyptians prepared the food offerings they made to their dead using preservation techniques at least as exotic as those used in embalming human and animal mummies," it further explained.
The researchers used samples stored at the British and Cairo museums. They performed chemical analysis to determine the balming components such as animal fats, resin, essential oils, petroleum bitumen plant oils, and beeswax that are also used for human and animal mummies.
The cattle ribs were discovered from the tomb of an Egyptian noblewoman known as Tjuiu, who was buried together with her partner Yuya. The piece of beef dates back to 1349 B.C. at the latest. The second specimen came from the tomb of Isetemkheb D. who was related to a high priest in Thebes. The other two samples, duck and goat meat, came from the tomb of Henutmehyt from 1290 B.C.
While most of the items were preserved using usual fats and oils that were used in human and animal mummies, the beef specimen found in the tomb of Tjuiu and Yuya had a bandage with traces of resin from Pistacia. The resin from this desert plant was considered as a luxury item during the ancient times often used as incense or varnish for high-quality coffins. This is a clear indication that the complexity of mummification of royalties extend to the techniques used for preserving food items in their tombs. Bon Appétit