Scientists unearth crucial steps used to prepare ancient Egyptians for afterlife

WION Web Team
Copenhagen, Denmark Published: Mar 02, 2021, 05:58 PM(IST)

The mummy's body is on display at Leeds City Museum. (Image coutesy: Leeds museums and galleries) Photograph:( Others )

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The oldest surviving manual on mummification discovered is based on a manual recently discovered in a 3,500-year-old medical papyrus

Researchers have unearthed the crucial steps to the embalming process used to prepare ancient Egyptians for the afterlife.

The oldest surviving manual on mummification discovered is based on a manual recently discovered in a 3,500-year-old medical papyrus.

In ancient Egypt, embalming was considered a sacred art, and knowledge of the process was the preserve of very few individuals.

Also see| Scientists digitally 'unwrap' mummies of ancient Egyptian cat, snake and bird

Most secrets of the art were probably passed on orally from one embalmer to the other, Egyptologists believe, so written evidence is scarce; until recently, only two texts on mummification had been identified.

Egyptologists were therefore surprised to find a short manual on embalming in a medical text that is primarily concerned with herbal medicine and swellings of the skin. 

The importance of the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg manual in reconstructing the embalming process lies in its specification of the process being divided into intervals of four, with the embalmers actively working on the mummy every four days.

According to Sofie Schiødt, the lead author of the study, ''A ritual procession of the mummy marked these days, celebrating the progress of restoring the deceased’s corporeal integrity, amounting to 17 processions over the course of the embalming period. In between the four-day intervals, the body was covered with cloth and overlaid with straw infused with aromatics to keep away insects and scavengers.''

The two parts of the papyrus originally belonged to two private collectors, and several sections of it are still missing. Based on the palaeography, that is, the sign forms, the six-metre long papyrus is dated to approximately 1450 BC, which means that it predates the only two other examples of embalming texts by more than a thousand years.

The bulk of the papyrus, which is the second-longest medical papyrus surviving from ancient Egypt, deals with herbal medicine and skin illnesses.

Specifically, it contains the earliest-known herbal treatise, which provides descriptions of the appearance, habitat, uses, and religious significance of a divine plant and its seed as well as a lengthy treatise on swellings of the skin, which are seen as illnesses sent forth by the lunar god Khonsu.

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