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A recipe for preserving the body after death

Scene depicting Anubis, the god of mummification (standing), on an Egyptian sarcophagus from around 400 BC

André / Wikimedia Commons

For the head, a mixture of pistachio tree resin, cedar and juniper oil or tar, castor oil, and elemi oil. For the stomach, heated beeswax. After the skin is cleaned and anointed with aromatic resins, a mixture of ruminant fat and heated beeswax is applied. An international group led by archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer of Ludwig Maximilian University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, both in Germany, analyzed the chemical composition of residues found in 31 urns discovered in a mummification center that operated in the Saqqara region south of Cairo between 664 BC and 525 BC. They were thus able to determine detailed recipes for the balms and ointments used to mummify bodies in Ancient Egypt. The embalming method practiced by the Egyptians for nearly 3,000 years was a complex ritual that could take weeks. Until now, only some of the techniques and generic names for the mixtures used in mummification were known, based on descriptions found in ancient texts from Egypt and Greece.