Embalming as early as the Old Kingdom
Biochemical analysis of an Egyptian mummy from 2150 BC. BC confirm that, contrary to previous assumptions, embalming substances were used for mummification as early as the Old Kingdom. Until now it was not known that 4 millennia ago the embalming of the dead was common. On the other hand, the drying of the corpse for mummification was already proven for this age. dr Yoka Kaup, Dr. Hedwig Etspueler and Prof. Ulrich Weser from Inorganic Biochemistry at the University of Tübingen report in Nature (issue of January 22, 1998) on the current results of their research work. The fragments used were taken from the mummy of Idu II, a timber merchant. The skeleton and skull were in a wooden coffin found in an underground burial chamber near Giza in 1914. Immediately after the excavation, the bone finds were doused with hot paraffin, which made it difficult to analyze the embalming substances.
Some time ago, the scientists succeeded in isolating an ancient enzyme from the rib and collarbone fragments, which is very similar to an already known phosphatase in terms of its molecular weight. Phosphatase plays an essential role in human bone metabolism. The clear human and therefore non-bacterial origin of the enzyme could be confirmed by microbiological investigations and tests with antibodies.
The latest research has revealed chemical substances with an antiseptic effect, which probably originate from the embalming of the dead. Gas chromatographic studies have identified a number of chemical compounds found in wood tars and resins today. These are ethereal alcohols, cedrol, guaiacol and tert.-Octyohenol, trimethylcyclohexenemethanol and octahydronaphthalenemethanol and the resin components dehydroabietic acid and their ester derivatives.
A 12-fold higher sodium content was measured in the rib fragments of the Idu II by atomic emission spectroscopy. Presumably, this results from the several-week process of dehydrating the bones in dry baking soda to mummify the corpse.