Oldest Mummy Discovered in Egypt.
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|Tue, 04-01-2003 - 11:26am|
Egyptian archaeologists have brought to light the oldest known evidence of human mummification after opening on Sunday a 5,000-year-old wooden coffin found at Sakkara near Cairo.
Discovered amid more than 20 tombs built out of mud brick, the sarcophagi contained human remains covered in linen and resin.
"The mummy is considered the first embalming attempt known by ancient Egyptians 5,000 years ago dating back to the era of King Hor-aga," the Egyptian state information service said.
According to Zahi Hawass, the director of Egypt's council of antiquities, the bones probably belonged to an official who had lived around 3200 B.C under Egypt's First Dynasty.
Protecting bodies from decay and preserving them in a recognizable form was extremely important for the ancient Egyptians. They believed no person could enter the afterlife unless the Ka and Ba, the most important parts of the spirit, could return to the body: the reunification of body and spirit was the key to enjoying the afterlife.
Bodies were embalmed as early as 2613 to 2494 B.C., under the pharaohs of the 4th dynasty. However, already in 5000 B.C. bodies were preserved by burying them in the heat and dryness of the desert sand.
The most effective techniques were used between 1567-1200 B.C., and substances with the best antibacterial properties were chosen.
A recent, systematic analysis of mummification, involving 25 mummies dating from 2600 B.C. to 395 A.D., revealed that the ancient Egyptians used complex recipes.
Plant oils, salts, beeswax , coniferous, Pistacia and balsamic resins were found among the embalming ingredients. Moreover, "drying oils", which would have been liquid when applied and then hardened over time, were applied to provide an impermeable coating against the humidity of underground tombs.
Mummification required the removal all internal organs except the heart through a four-inch incision on the body's left side. During a final magical ceremony known as the "Opening of the Mouth," the eyes, mouth and ears were opened so the deceased could see, speak and hear during the afterlife.
"This is certainly one of the earliest attempts at mummification, but only moderately successful as the flesh was not adequately preserved. The discoveries of mummies that can be studied in context will certainly advance our understanding of the history of the mummification process and the technological advances made by the ancient Egyptians in this field," mummy expert Salima Ikram, Egyptologist at American University in Cairo, told Discovery News.