‘Scent of eternity’ worn by historical Egyptian mummy has been revealed

A limestone jar containing the stays of inner organs taken from the physique of Senetnay, an historical Egyptian lady

Christian Tepper/Museum August Kestner, Hannover

Eternity smells like a concoction of beeswax, bitumen, plant oil and tree resin. That’s in line with researchers who’ve simply analysed the components used to embalm an historical Egyptian noblewoman – Senetnay – who died about 3500 years in the past.

Sniffing out the merchandise used throughout mummification not solely helps us higher perceive how the traditional Egyptians handled their lifeless, but additionally what commerce routes they relied on to entry uncommon components.

Senetnay is claimed to have nursed Amenhotep II, a pharaoh of historical Egypt’s 18th dynasty – a dynasty that additionally included well-known rulers Tutankhamun and Hatshepsut. Senetnay was buried within the Valley of the Kings close to the traditional city of Thebes, the modern-day metropolis of Luxor.

Barbara Huber on the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology in Germany and her colleagues used state-of-the-art analytical expertise — comparable to gasoline chromatography-mass spectrometry — to unpack the chemical composition of the balm residue present in two of the jars that held Senetnay’s organs through the mummification course of.

That is essentially the most advanced mummification balm discovered from this era in historical Egyptian historical past, in line with Huber, and the scent extracted from it’s so refined that she dubbed it “the scent of eternity”.

“The dominant odor, I might say, is like this robust pine-like woody scent of the conifers. However then it’s additionally a little bit bit intermingled with a sweeter undertone of the beeswax,” she says. “After which now we have this type of robust smoky scent of the bitumen. It’s a little bit bit like freshly laid tar on a road.”

But it surely’s the tree resins, particularly, that Huber’s group. Their evaluation suggests the balm most likely contained resin from larch bushes. It might even have contained resin from pistachio bushes, or maybe a so-called dammar gum.

These three components aren’t naturally present in Egypt, as larches and pistachios primarily develop within the northern Mediterranean, and dammar comes from bushes that develop in South-East Asian forests. This means that historical Egyptians had been importing items by way of far-reaching commerce routes at an earlier date than researchers had beforehand thought. For example, a research printed earlier this 12 months additionally discovered dammar in a mummification balm utilized in historical Egypt, however Senetnay’s mummy predates that instance by a thousand years.

“If the components are what they are saying they’re, it suggests a way more linked world than we’d in any other case have thought,” says Sean Coughlin on the Czech Academy of Sciences, who was not concerned within the research. “We would marvel what tools, expertise, and concepts would have traveled with them alongside the commerce routes.”

Huber has unanswered questions on whether or not these balms had been chosen for particular causes — maybe as a result of they work as antimicrobials or pesticides. She additionally wonders whether or not totally different organs had been mummified utilizing totally different balms, as her preliminary information suggests, and if this was an intentional selection that carried some significance.

“Knowledge for embalming supplies for the 18th dynasty are missing, so this can be a very welcome addition to the corpus of data,” says Kate Fulcher, who previously analysed embalming materials on the British Museum and was not concerned within the research.

“We don’t know a lot, or something actually, about who performed the ceremony and what was stated,” Fulcher says. “This seems to have been secret or managed information and we don’t have any writing about it.”


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