The Ancient Egyptians were mummifying people of high standing – after death it should be said – as far back as 4,000 years ago. Now, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have found the oldest known text which acts as a guide on how best to mummify an individual. The 3,500-year-old medical papyrus, which was hidden within Ancient Egyptian documents in the Louvre, Paris, details some of the gruesome practices.
Egyptologist Sofie Schiodt, from the University of Copenhagen, said: “The text reads like a memory aid, so the intended readers must have been specialists who needed to be reminded of these details, such as unguent recipes and uses of various types of bandages.”
Ms Schiodt has not released the full script – she is using it for her thesis which will be released next year – but she has teased some of the details.
One of the details included in the text is instructions on how to embalm the face.
The Ancient Egyptians would place a piece of red linen cloth coated with a plant-based solution on the deceased person’s head.
This solution included aromatic substances and binders to hold the mixture together, and was used to repel bacteria and insects.
Another part of the text includes a process which took around 70 days in total.
Embalmers would work on the body every four days, both drying it out and dousing it in anti-bacterial fluids.
Ms Schiodt continued: “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.
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A statement from the University of Copenhagen said: “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.”
What makes this one so unique is that it offers different insights into the embalming process in comparison to the two similar papyruses which have previously been found, Ms Schiodt said.
She stated: “Many descriptions of embalming techniques that we find in this papyrus have been left out of the two later manuals, and the descriptions are extremely detailed.
“The text reads like a memory aid, so the intended readers must have been specialists who needed to be reminded of these details, such as unguent recipes and uses of various types of bandages.
“Some of the simpler processes, e.g. the drying of the body with natron, have been omitted from the text.”