The origins of Egyptian mummification could go back 1,500 years earlier than previously thought, archaeologists report in the journal PLOS ONE. Researchers from the University of York and Oxford in England, plus Macquarie University in Australia, reached that conclusion based on chemical analysis on textiles from mummies entombed in ancient cemeteries at Mostagedda in Upper Egypt.
Archaeologists had thought these mummies — which date back to between 4500 B.C. and 3350 B.C. — were desiccated naturally by the desert's hot, dry conditions. But the newly reported tests turned up traces of pine resin, an aromatic plant extract and a plant gum or sugar. Scientists also identified a petroleum product, and oil or fat from an animal source. York archaeologist Stephen Buckley said those are the typical ingredients for Egyptian mummification. "Moreover, these resinous recipes applied to the prehistoric linen-wrapped bodies contained antibacterial agents, used in the same proportions employed by the Egyptian embalmers when their skill was at its peak, some 2,500 to 3,000 years later," he said in a news release.
In addition to Buckley, the authors of "Evidence for Prehistoric Origins of Egyptian Mummification in Late Neolithic Burials" include Jana Jones, Thomas Higham, Ron Oldfield and Terry O'Connor.
— Alan Boyle