How is a mummy made? Revealed the amazing formulas of the ancient Egyptians

The discovery of an unusual set of ceramic vessels has shed new light on the mummification process in ancient Egypt, according to a new study.

Dating back around 2,500 years, the 31 jars were discovered in an embalming workshop in the famous Saqqara necropolis near Cairo. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Parts of the cemeteries are above ground, but a shaft extends into an embalming room and a subterranean burial chamber, where the vials were discovered.

For thousands of years, the ancient Egyptians mummified their dead to help them achieve eternal life. According to a study published Wednesday, February 1, 2023, in the journal Nature, researchers used chemistry and an unusual collection of jars to figure out how they did it. (Nikola Nevenov/AP)

The chemical residues found in the jars allowed the researchers to identify mixtures of fragrant oils, tars and resins or antiseptics, according to the study. This, along with the writing inscribed on the outside of the containers, provided them with valuable new details about the mummification process, the researchers explained.

“Enrolled recipients can now be connected to specific materials and mixes of materials that were previously unknown,” Susanne Beck, one of the study’s authors, told NBC News via email Thursday.

It added that “very exotic products” such as Dammar tree resin and Elemi oil, “which are only native to the tropical rainforests of Asia and partly to Africa,” had also been discovered in the jars.

The inscriptions on the jars, along with chemical analysis of their contents, also helped the researchers find Egyptian terms, such as “Antiu” and “Sefet,” for specific mixtures, the researchers wrote in the study.

The excavation area of ​​the Saqqara Saite Tombs Project.  (Saite Tombs of S. Beck / Saqqara Project)

The excavation area of ​​the Saqqara Saite Tombs Project. (Saite Tombs of S. Beck / Saqqara Project)

“This gives us insight into the whole mummification process and the logistics that we didn’t have until today,” said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, who was not involved in the study.

“The fact that something is traded that is a resin material or an oil from a plant is more interesting, because, you know, how did people know they wanted this?” she said.

“Does it have properties that are unique, that other materials that might be found in the Mediterranean basin or the Horn of Africa don’t have?” she added.

Ikram also said he believed the trade in embalming material illustrated how knowledge was transferred between the equivalent of ancient physicians or chemists.

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