A new study shows that ancient Egyptians used far more complex embalming techniques than previously realized. They used complex mixtures of plant and animal extracts to embalm mummies, and researchers have discovered traces of a wide variety of materials, including animal fats, plant oils, beeswax, and resins in minute samples from 13 mummies. Embalmers mixed cheap and plentiful ingredients with exotic juniper and cedar oils imported from the Middle East.The research, carried out by two chemists from the University of Bristol, is the first systematic scientific analysis of mummification. Richard Evershed and Stephen Buckley examined samples from 13 mummies spanning 2,300 years of Egyptian history.

?The presence of plant oils (and to a lesser extent animal fats) suggests that they were key ingredients in mummification,? say the researchers, Dr. Richard Evershed and Dr. Stephen Buckley. ?[They] were probably used as a less-costly base with which to mix and apply more exotic embalming agents to their bodies and or wrappings.?

Fashion and cost may also have influenced the choice of materials. ?Wealthy Egyptians may have deliberately chosen the more expensive embalming fluid to impress family and friends, just as well-to-do people today select exotic woods and metal trims for their relatives? coffins,? says Sarah Wissemen from the University of Illinois.

Mummification was developed because the Egyptians believed no one could enter the afterlife unless the most important part of the spirit, the ?ka,? could return to the body.Therefore he dead body had to be protected from decay and preserved in a recognizable form. After centuries of experimentation, embalmers learned to remove decay-causing organs and treat the body with substances such as salts, resins, cedar oil, gum, honey and bitumen that had drying and anti-microbial properties.

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Also, a schoolboy has solved an ancient Egyptian mystery which had baffled museum experts for 100 years. Seventeen-year old Adam Cadwell was working on a school assignment at Sheffield Museum in England when he figured out the meaning of the hieroglyphics on a 2,600-year-old mummy case.

X-rays had already shown the mummy was a 14-year-old girl, but the rest of the story was a mystery to museum experts. Hieroglyphics revealed the girl was the head of a rich household in the ancient city of Thebes in the 26th Dynasty.

Adam?s months of hard work paid off when he found out her name was Djema?atiuesankh. A museum worker says, ?Nobody here could ever read the hieroglyphics?then Adam turned up. He?s really enthusiastic and has done a wonderful job.?

For more on Adam’s story, click here.

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