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    Scent of the afterlife? Scientists recreate recipe for Egyptian mummification balm

    news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 6 September - 20:27 · 1 minute

Limestone Canopic Jar of the Egyptian lady Senetnay (c. 1450 BCE)

Enlarge / One of the limestone canopic jars that once held mummified organs of the Egyptian noblewoman Senetnay (c. 1450 BCE). (credit: Museum August Kestner, Hannover/Christian Tepper)

Trying to recreate the scents and smells of the past is a daunting challenge, given the ephemeral nature of these olfactory cues. Now scientists have identified the compounds in the balms used to mummify the organs of an ancient Egyptian noblewoman, according to a recent paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggesting that the recipes were unusually complex and used ingredients not native to the region. The authors also partnered with a perfumer to recreate what co-author Barbara Huber calls "the scent of eternity."

“'The scent of eternity’ represents more than just the aroma of the mummification process,” said Huber , an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology in Jena, Germany. “It embodies the rich cultural, historical, and spiritual significance of Ancient Egyptian mortuary practices. Our methods were also able to provide crucial insights into balm ingredients for which there is limited information in contemporary ancient Egyptian textual sources.”

As previously reported , Egyptian embalming is thought to have started in the Predynastic Period or even earlier, when people noticed that the arid heat of the sand tended to dry and preserve bodies buried in the desert. Eventually, the idea of preserving the body after death worked its way into Egyptian religious beliefs. When people began to bury the dead in rock tombs, away from the desiccating sand, they used chemicals like natron salt and plant-based resins for embalming.

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    Gruesome cache of severed hands is evidence of trophy-taking in ancient Egypt

    news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 7 April - 13:10 · 1 minute

close up of a severed skeletal hand

Enlarge / Archaeologists have discovered the first physical evidence of the so-called "gold of honor" ceremony in Ancient Egypt, in which the severed hands of defeated foes were presented to the Pharaoh in exchange for a collar of golden beads. (credit: J. Gresky et al., 2023/CC BY 4.0 )

There is evidence that ancient Egyptian soldiers would sever the right hands of foes and present them to the Pharaoh. That evidence comes in the form of tomb inscriptions of prominent warriors, as well as inscriptions and iconography on temple reliefs. Archaeologists have now discovered the first physical evidence of such a trophy-taking practice, according to a recent paper published in the journal Scientific Reports. The severed right hands of 12 individuals were excavated from pits within a courtyard of a 15th Dynasty palace in northeastern Egypt.

The 15th Dynasty (circa 1640-1530 BCE) rulers were known as Hyksos ("rulers of foreign lands"), although they did not control all of Egypt from their seat of power in the city of Avaris—the pharaohs of the 16th and 17th Dynasties ruled from Thebes during the same time period. Historians disagree about whether the Hyksos came to Egypt as invaders or gradually settled in the Nile delta before rising to power. But by the late 17th Dynasty, the Hyksos and the pharaohs were at war, leading to the former's defeat by Ahmose I, who founded the 18th Dynasty.

But the Hyksos nonetheless left their mark on Egyptian culture in the form of certain technological advances and customs, including the practice of presenting the severed right hands of defeated foes in a so-called "gold of honor" ceremony in exchange for a collar of golden beads. Per the authors, the Egyptians seem to have adopted the custom during Ahmose I's reign at the latest, based on a relief showing a pile of hands in his temple in Abydos. Tomb inscriptions and temple reliefs from the 18th to the 20th Dynasties "consistently depict hand counts on the battlefield following major battles," the authors wrote. However, there was no physical evidence of the custom beyond iconographic and literary sources—until now.

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    CT shows ancient Egyptian pharaoh was captured in battle and executed

    news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 17 February, 2021 - 21:59

CT shows ancient Egyptian pharaoh was captured in battle and executed

Enlarge (credit: Saleem and Hawass 2021)

CT scans of a mummified Egyptian pharaoh, once suspected to be the victim of a palace assassination, suggest that he was actually executed after being captured in battle in the mid-16th century BCE.

Pharaoh Seqenenre led his army from Upper Egypt in the 1550s BCE to face the Hyksos, a group of warriors from the Levant who occupied Lower Egypt and demanded tribute from Upper Egypt during what historians call the Second Intermediate Period. It’s known that Seqenenre died during this conflict, but it’s been unclear whether he was assassinated in his bed in the palace at Thebes or died on the battlefield.

A computed tomography (CT) scan offered a look at his wounds, along with the details of his mummification. Radiologist Sahar Saleem of Cairo University and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass concluded that he most likely died near the front lines and was brought back to Thebes for mummification and burial.

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    Ancient embalmers used mud to hold a damaged mummy together

    news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 4 February, 2021 - 17:22 · 1 minute

Color photo of painted coffin (top) and linen-wrapped mummy (bottom).

Enlarge / Sir Charles Nicholson donated the mummified person and the coffin to the University of Sydney in 1860, apparently having realized that an entire dead body is a pretty horrific travel souvenir. (credit: Sowada et al, PLOS ONE (CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/))

Approximately 3,200 years ago in Egypt, ancient embalmers encased a mummy in dried mud to repair the damage done by careless tomb robbers. Archaeologists recently used a CT scanner to unravel part of the dead person’s story. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, revealed an unknown mummification technique, along with a strange tale of grave robbing, family devotion, and mistaken identity.

The person, now known only as NMR.27.3, died relatively young. The name of the deceased is lost to history, and their gender is debatable (more on that later). After death, grave robbers broke into their tomb at least twice, and now archaeologists have pieced together some fragments of the story—mostly the postmortem chapters.

What’s left behind is a rare glimpse of life and death in ancient Egypt. The anonymous mummified person reveals that even years after death, living relatives still cared enough about the deceased to actually have the corpse repaired (sort of) after grave robbers damaged it. And to repair the mummy, ancient embalmers plastered mud over the linen wrappings to help the body hold its shape, a technique that modern archaeologists have never seen before.

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    Egyptian archaeologists unearth dozens of tombs at Saqqara necropolis

    news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 25 January, 2021 - 15:33 · 1 minute

Color photo of fragments of papyrus laid out on a table

Enlarge / Copies of the Book of the Dead, or excerpts from it, were often included in burials so the deceased would have a guide to the afterlife. (credit: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities )

Archaeologists in Egypt are preparing to open a 3,000-year-old burial shaft at the Saqqara necropolis, south of Cairo, in the coming week.

The unexplored tomb is one of 52 burial shafts clustered near the much older pyramid of the Pharaoh Teti. Workers at the site found the entrance to the latest shaft earlier this week as they were preparing to announce a slew of other finds at the site, including the tombs of military leaders and high-ranking courtiers, a copy of the Book of the Dead, and ancient board games. Also among the discoveries is the name of the owner of an elaborate mortuary temple near Teti’s pyramid: Narat or Naert, the pharaoh’s queen.

“I’d never heard of this queen before. Therefore we add an important piece of Egyptian history about this queen,” archaeologist and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass told CBS News. Archaeologists first unearthed the stone temple in 2010, but it wasn’t clear who the grand structure had been built for. At mortuary temples like this one, priests and supplicants could make offerings to the dead queen to keep her comfortable in the afterlife—and ask her to help them out in this world.

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