THINK of ancient Egypt, and you think of a bandaged body in a sarcophagus.
Now new research carried out by a York archaeologist suggests that the Egyptians began the practice of mummification 1,500 years earlier than was previously thought.
A study led by Dr Stephen Buckley, of the University of York, and Dr Jana Jones, of Macquarie University, Sydney, has found complex embalming agents in linen wrappings from bodies in one of the earliest recorded Egyptian cemeteries at Mostagedda, an archaeological site from the Neolithic period – about 6,000 BC.
Dr Jones said: “For over a decade I have been intrigued by early and cryptic reports of the methods of wrapping bodies at the Neolithic cemeteries at Badari and Mostagedda.
“In 2002, I examined samples of funerary textiles from these sites that had been sent to various museums in the United Kingdom through the 1930s from Egypt.
"Microscopic analysis with my colleague Ron Oldfield revealed resins were likely to have been used.” but I wasn’t able to confirm my theories, or their full significance, without tapping into my York colleague’s unique knowledge of ancient organic compounds.”
Dr Buckley has identified ingredients including a pine resin, a natural petroleum source, a plant gum or sugar and a plant oil or animal fat.
He said: “The antibacterial properties of some of these ingredients and the localised soft-tissue preservation that they would have afforded lead us to conclude that these represent the very beginnings of experimentation that would evolve into the mummification practice of the Pharaonic period”.
The embalming agents were intypical of those used throughout the 3,000 year Pharaonic period in Egypt and contained antibacterial ingredients in the same proportion as those used by Egyptian embalmers at the height of mummification 2,500-3,000 years later, Dr Buckley added.