A non-destructive method for analyzing Ancient Egyptian embalming materials


Impression: Researchers analyzed embalming materials from the neck of this Historic Egyptian mummy, which was acquired by a French museum in 1837.
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Credit: Frédérique Vincent, ethnographic conservator

Historic Egyptian mummies have lots of tales to notify, but unlocking their secrets without destroying fragile continues to be is difficult. Now, scientists reporting in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry have identified a non-harmful way to assess bitumen — the compound that offers mummies their dark shade — in Historical Egyptian embalming components. The method offers clues to the bitumen’s geographic origin and, in a person experiment, discovered that a mummy in a French museum could have been partly restored, most likely by collectors.

The embalming substance applied by Historical Egyptians was a sophisticated combination of pure compounds these kinds of as sugar gum, beeswax, fat, coniferous resins and variable amounts of bitumen. Also recognized as asphalt or tar, bitumen is a black, extremely viscous sort of petroleum that arises primarily from fossilized algae and crops. Scientists have applied a variety of tactics to evaluate Ancient Egyptian embalming products, but they ordinarily involve planning and separation ways that damage the sample. Charles Dutoit, Didier Gourier and colleagues questioned if they could use a non-damaging procedure named electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to detect two parts of bitumen formed all through the decomposition of photosynthetic lifetime: vanadyl porphyrins and carbonaceous radicals, which could provide information on the existence, origin and processing of bitumen in the embalming product.

The scientists acquired samples of black matter from an Historic Egyptian sarcophagus (or coffin), two human mummies and 4 animal mummies (all from 744-30 B.C.), which they analyzed by EPR and in comparison to reference bitumen samples. The team discovered that the relative amounts of vanadyl compounds and carbonaceous radicals could differentiate between bitumen of maritime origin (this kind of as from the Dead Sea) and land-plant origin (from a tar pit). Also, they detected vanadyl compounds that probably shaped from reactions involving the vanadyl porphyrins and other embalming components. Intriguingly, the black make a difference taken from a human mummy obtained by a French museum in 1837 did not consist of any of these compounds, and it was really rich in bitumen. This mummy could have been partially restored with pure bitumen, possibly by a non-public collector to fetch a bigger rate in advance of the museum acquired it, the scientists say.


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

The summary that accompanies this paper is readily available in this article.

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