London, Sophisticated embalming treatments were developed by ancient Egyptians 1,500 years before the classic Pharaonic period, and across a wider geographical area than had been previously known, a new research has showed.
Forensic tests on a well-known prehistoric mummy, housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin since 1901, revealed that embalming was taking place 1,500 years earlier than previously accepted.
Dating from c.3700-3500 BC, the mummy has been housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin since 1901, but unlike the majority of other prehistoric mummies in museums, it has never undergone any conservation treatments, providing a unique opportunity for accurate scientific analysis.
"There are very few mummies of this 'natural' type available for analysis. Our radiocarbon dating shows it dates to the early Naqada phase of Egyptian prehistory, substantially earlier than the classic Pharaonic period, and this early age offers us an unparalleled glimpse into funerary treatment before the rise of the state," said Professor Tom Higham, from Britain's Oxford University.
"By combining chemical analysis with visual examination of the body, genetic investigations, radiocarbon dating and microscopic analysis of the linen wrappings, we confirmed that this ritual mummification process took place around 3600 BC on a male, aged between 20 and 30 years when he died," added Jana Jones, from the Macquarie University in Sydney
The Turin mummy was previously assumed to have been naturally mummified by the desiccating action of the hot, dry desert sand.
However, the new study, appearing in the Journal of Archaeological Science, uncovered evidence that the mummy had in fact undergone an embalming process, with a plant oil, heated conifer resin, an aromatic plant extract and a plant gum/sugar mixed together and used to impregnate the funerary textiles in which the body was wrapped.
This 'recipe' contained antibacterial agents, used in similar proportions to those employed by the Egyptian embalmers when their skill was at its peak some 2,500 years later, said researchers.
Moreover, the study found that the mummy came from Upper (southern) Egypt, offering the first indication that the embalming recipe was being used over a wider geographical area at a time when the concept of a pan-Egyptian identity was supposedly still developing, the researchers noted.