The science behind mummification in Egypt is around a thousand years older than previously thought according to new evidence.
The advanced embalming processes used in the preservation of the body of Egyptian nobleman Khuwy clearly show that these ancient people had developed this science much earlier than had been believed, rewriting the history books.
The body of the high-ranking aristocrat, which was first discovered in 2019, is now one of the oldest Egyptian mummies ever discovered, according to research. The mummy dates back to the Old Kingdom period of Egyptian history, which lasted from 2,700 to 2,200 BC, or 4,700 years ago.
Mummification process involved the use of the finest resins, linens
The exquisitely-woven linen draping and the fine resins used in the process were not believed to have been developed until at least a thousand years after the time of Khuwy’s embalming.
Professor Salima Ikram, the head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, who is one of the foremost experts on the history of mummification, told The Observer “if this is indeed an Old Kingdom mummy, all books about mummification and the history of the Old Kingdom will need to be revised.”
“This would completely turn our understanding of the evolution of mummification on its head,” she pointed out. “The materials used, their origins, and the trade routes associated with them will dramatically impact our understanding of Old Kingdom Egypt.”
“Until now, we had thought that Old Kingdom mummification was relatively simple, with basic desiccation—not always successful—no removal of the brain, and only occasional removal of the internal organs,” she explained. “Indeed, more attention was paid to the exterior appearance of the deceased than the interior.”
“Also, the use of resins is far more limited in the Old Kingdom mummies thus far recorded,” she added. “This mummy is awash with resins and textiles and gives a completely different impression of mummification. In fact, it is more like mummies found 1,000 years later.”
Khuwy’s tomb was discovered in 2019 in Saqqara next to the pyramid complex built for Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi, who reigned from 2381 to 2353 BC. The nobleman’s titles included “overseer of the khentiu-she of the Great House,” “Great one of the ten of Upper Egypt”— and perhaps most intriguing of all—”Sole friend” of the pharaoh.
“Lost Treasures of Egypt” new National Geographic series
The mummy and the extremely advanced technology used in its preservation are featured in National Geographic’s television series Lost Treasures of Egypt, which broadcast in November 2019.
In the documentary, cameras follow the team of international archaeologists as they make one excavation after another in Egypt. The new discovery is a part of the fourth episode, called “The Rise of the Mummies.”
Archaeologist Mohamed Megahed states in the episode “If it’s really Khuwy, this is a breakthrough in ancient Egyptian history.”
The original discovery of Khuwy’s mummified body in the necropolis at Saqqara was featured in an earlier season of the National Geographic series; the painstaking investigation into the dating and scientific analysis of his mummification process is shown in the new show.
The nearly-pristine hieroglyphs on the wall of his tomb indicated that the body was indeed that of Khuwy, a nobleman who was related to the pharaonic family.
Tom Cook of Windfall Films, who produced the series for National Geographic, explains “They knew the pottery in the tomb was Old Kingdom but [Ikram] didn’t think that the mummy was from [that period] because it was preserved too well. They didn’t think the mummification process [at that time] was that advanced. So her initial reaction was ‘this is definitely not Old Kingdom.’ But over the course of the investigation she started to come round.”
Egyptian mummification experts would completely cover bodies in expensive resins from trees, which effectively preserved the flesh even before they wrapped the corpse. The researchers discovered that Khuwy’s body was impregnated with high-quality resins and swathed in the finest linens that were produced at the time, according to a report from The Guardian.
Ikram declared of the new research that “it’s extraordinary. The only time I’ve [seen] so much of this kind of good quality linen has been in the 21st dynasty.” This period of Egyptian history took place more than a thousand years after the life and death of the nobleman.
The National Geographic series is eye candy for all history, and archaeologists are followed during an entire excavation season, showing viewers exactly what they find, when they find it, and how they discover ancient historical mysteries.
Carolyn Payne, a commissioning editor at National Geographic, says the discoveries made this past season included “some amazing finds.”
As the series states, “With every new body archaeologists unearth, the story of the mummies of Egypt becomes clearer.”