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Organic chemistry of balms used in the preparation of pharaonic meat mummies

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 20 Nov 2013

KA Clark, S Ikram and RP Evershed
Abstract
The funeral preparations for ancient Egyptian dead were extensive. Tomb walls were often elaborately painted and inscribed with scenes and objects deemed desirable for the afterlife. Votive objects, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and importantly, food including bread, cereals, fruit, jars of wine, beer, oil, meat, and poultry were included in the burial goods. An intriguing feature of the meat and poultry produced for the deceased from the highest levels of Egyptian society was that they were mummified to ensure their preservation. However, little is known about the way they were prepared, such as whether balms were used, and if they were used, how they compared with those applied to human and animal mummies? We present herein the results of lipid biomarker and stable carbon isotope investigations of tissues, bandaging, and organic balms associated with a variety of meat mummies that reveal that treatments ranged from simple desiccation and wrapping in bandages to, in the case of the tomb of Yuya and Tjuia (18th Dynasty, 1386-1349 BC), a balm associated with a beef rib mummy containing a high abundance of Pistacia resin and, thus, more sophisticated than the balms found on many contemporaneous human mummies.
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Concepts
Death, British Museum, Embalming, Mummy, Carbon, Ancient Egypt
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