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Scientific Reports: Biomolecular characterization of 3500-year-old ancient Egyptian mummification balms from the Valley of the Kings

By August 31, 2023March 21st, 2024No Comments


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Ancient Egyptian mummification was practiced for nearly 4000 years as a key feature of some of the most complex mortuary practices documented in the archaeological record. Embalming, the preservation of the body and organs of the deceased for the afterlife, was a central component of the Egyptian mummification process. Here, we combine GC–MS, HT-GC–MS, and LC–MS/MS analyses to examine mummification balms excavated more than a century ago by Howard Carter from Tomb KV42 in the Valley of the Kings. Balm residues were scraped from now empty canopic jars that once contained the mummified organs of the noble lady Senetnay, dating to the 18th dynasty, ca. 1450 BCE. Our analysis revealed balms consisting of beeswax, plant oil, fats, bitumen, Pinaceae resins, a balsamic substance, and dammar or Pistacia tree resin. These are the richest, most complex balms yet identified for this early time period and they shed light on balm ingredients for which there is limited information in Egyptian textual sources. They highlight both the exceptional status of Senetnay and the myriad trade connections of the Egyptians in the 2nd millennium BCE. They further illustrate the excellent preservation possible even for organic remains long removed from their original archaeological context.

This article made it to the Top 100 overall papers published in Scientific Reports in 2023! The journal published over 22180 overall papers that year.

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