In the Egyptian Museum since the 1900s, the mummy affectionately known as Fred has provided scientists with the recipe used for ancient embalming. It also shows bodies were embalmed 1,500 years earlier than thought.
The ingredients turned out to be plant oils mixed with plant gum or sugars and heated conifer resin with aromatic plant extracts to keep off microbial growth. The balm would have formed a “sort of a sticky brown paste” which was either smeared on the body or applied onto bandages before wrapping, according to the research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Thursday.
“The examination of the Turin body makes a momentous contribution to our limited knowledge of the prehistoric period and the expansion of early mummification practices, as well as providing vital, new information on this particular mummy,” co-author Jana Jones, who is an egyptologist at Macquarie University, said.
In the 1990s, Jones studied ancient mummy wrappings dating to about 6,600 years ago. They too showed remnants of an embalming resin, indicating the same embalming process had been followed by the Egyptians thousands of years earlier than previously thought.
Jones said: “By combining chemical analysis with visual examination of the body, genetic investigations, radiocarbon dating and microscopic analysis of the linen wrappings, we confirmed that this ritual mummification process took place around 3,600 BC on a male, aged between 20 and 30 years when he died.”
After being wrapped in resin bandages, the mummy would have been placed in hot sand so the balm preservatives could act to keep the body safe.
Later mummies were laid flat in tombs far from the sun. As a precaution, their brain and other organs were removed, and a salt called natron was applied to dry the body.
The aim was to preserve the body for the afterlife, and give the spirit a place to reside.