Mummification Began in Egypt 1,500 Years Earlier Than Expected

Aug 14, 2014 10:31 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

A new study on mummification in Egypt suggests that that the practice of wrapping bodies to preserve them after death began around 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

The study, which was published this week in the journal PLOS One, is the first to describe resins and linens used as funeral wrappings dating back as far as 3350 to 4500 BC, according to AFP.

Researchers were able to figure out that back then people were using similar preserving materials in the same proportions as found in later mummies by applying modern scientific analysis to Egyptian collections that were already in British museums.

"This work demonstrates the huge potential of material in museum collections to allow researchers to unearth new information about the archaeological past," said co-author Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford, according to AFP.

"Using modern scientific tools our work has helped to illuminate a key aspect of the early history of ancient Egypt," Higham added.

Researchers used mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, and other chemical analysis techniques to identify natural materials used to preserve corpses at the time.

"These recipes consist of a plant oil or animal fat 'base' constituting the bulk of the 'balms'," said the study.

Lesser amounts of conifer resin, wax, plant gum, sugar, and aromatic plant extract were also used, according to AFP.

"Moreover, these recipes contained antibacterial agents, used in the same proportions as were employed by the Egyptian embalmers when their skill was at its peak, some 2500-3000 years later," said the study.

Researchers from the Universities of York, Macquarie, and Oxford on the decade-long project.

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