A non-destructive approach for examining Ancient Egyptian embalming products


IMAGE: Scientist evaluated embalming product from the neck of this Ancient Egyptian mummy, which was obtained by a French museum in 1837.
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Credit: Frédérique Vincent, ethnographic conservator

Ancient Egyptian mummies have numerous tales to inform, however opening their tricks without damaging fragile remains is challenging. Now, scientists reporting in AIR CONDITIONER’ Analytical Chemistry have actually discovered a non-destructive method to evaluate bitumen– the substance that offers mummies their dark color– in Ancient Egyptian embalming products. The approach supplies hints to the bitumen’s geographical origin and, in one experiment, exposed that a mummy in a French museum might have been partly brought back, likely by collectors.

The embalming product utilized by Ancient Egyptians was a complicated mix of natural substances such as sugar gum, beeswax, fats, coniferous resins and variable quantities of bitumen. Likewise called asphalt or tar, bitumen is a black, extremely thick type of petroleum that develops mostly from fossilized algae and plants. Scientists have actually utilized numerous methods to evaluate Ancient Egyptian embalming products, however they normally need preparation and separation actions that ruin the sample. Charles Dutoit, Didier Gourier and coworkers questioned if they might utilize a non-destructive strategy called electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to discover 2 parts of bitumen formed throughout the decay of photosynthetic life: vanadyl porphyrins and carbonaceous radicals, which might supply info on the existence, origin and processing of bitumen in the embalming product.

The scientists acquired samples of black matter from an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus (or casket), 2 human mummies and 4 animal mummies (all from 744-30 B.C.), which they evaluated by EPR and compared to reference bitumen samples. The group found that the relative quantities of vanadyl substances and carbonaceous radicals might separate in between bitumen of marine origin (such as from the Dead Sea) and land-plant origin (from a tar pit). Likewise, they spotted vanadyl substances that likely formed from responses in between the vanadyl porphyrins and other embalming parts. Intriguingly, the black matter drawn from a human mummy obtained by a French museum in 1837 didn’t consist of any of these substances, and it was really abundant in bitumen. This mummy might have been partly brought back with pure bitumen, most likely by a personal collector to bring a greater rate prior to the museum got it, the scientists state.


The authors acknowledge financing from Agence Nationale de la Recherche and the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France.

The abstract that accompanies this paper is offered here.

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