The names of some of the ingredients in Egyptian mummification are known to us through ancient texts, but the exact nature of these substances has remained a mystery until now.
Following their discovery of a Late Period mummification workshop at Saqqara in 2018 (see AE 109), a German-Egyptian team has just published the results of their analysis of the residue from 31 of the ceramic beakers and bowls found at the site, some of which had intact instruction labels.
One bowl labelled antiu, a word thought to mean myrrh or frankincense, was found to contain a blend of different ingredients, including cedar oil from Lebanon, Mediterranean juniper or cypress oil, and animal fats.
Ingredients from other containers included anti-fungal and anti-bacterial substances that were labelled ‘to make his odour pleasant’: bitumen, beeswax, and pistachio resin were identified. Surprisingly, some of the ingredients, such as elemi and dammar resins, are thought to have been imported from the tropical forests of south-east Asia, suggesting that ancient Egyptian embalmers had access to the very best ingredients from across the world.