Embalming the Face
Science & Technology

3,500-Year-Old Medical Papyrus Manual Reveals New Details About Ancient Egyptian Mummification

The papyrus incorporates new proof of the process for embalming the deceased’s face, the place the face is roofed with a bit of pink linen and fragrant substances. Credit score: Ida Christensen, College of Copenhagen

Based mostly on a handbook lately found in a 3,500-year-old medical papyrus, College of Copenhagen Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt has been in a position to assist reconstruct the embalming course of used to organize historic Egyptians for the afterlife. It’s the oldest surviving handbook on mummification but found.

In historic Egypt, embalming was thought-about a sacred artwork, and information of the method was the protect of only a few people. Most secrets and techniques of the artwork have been in all probability handed on orally from one embalmer to the opposite, Egyptologists consider, so written proof is scarce; till lately, solely two texts on mummification had been recognized.

Egyptologists have been subsequently stunned to discover a brief handbook on embalming in a medical textual content that’s primarily involved with natural drugs and swellings of the pores and skin. The handbook has lately been edited by College of Copenhagen Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt:

“Many descriptions of embalming methods that we discover on this papyrus have been omitted of the 2 later manuals, and the descriptions are extraordinarily detailed. The textual content reads like a reminiscence support, so the meant readers will need to have been specialists who wanted to be reminded of those particulars, corresponding to unguent recipes and makes use of of assorted kinds of bandages. Among the easier processes, e.g. the drying of the physique with natron, have been omitted from the textual content,” Sofie Schiødt explains. She provides:

“One of many thrilling new items of data the textual content gives us with issues the process for embalming the useless individual’s face. We get an inventory of components for a treatment consisting largely of plant-based fragrant substances and binders which can be cooked right into a liquid, with which the embalmers coat a bit of pink linen. The pink linen is then utilized to the useless individual’s face in an effort to encase it in a protecting cocoon of aromatic and anti-bacterial matter. This course of was repeated at four-day intervals.”

Part of the papyrus that offers with swellings of the pores and skin. Credit score: The Papyrus Carlsberg Assortment, College of Copenhagen

Though this process has not been recognized earlier than, Egyptologists have beforehand examined a number of mummies from the identical interval as this handbook whose faces have been coated in material and resin. In response to Sofie Schiødt, this may match properly with the pink linen process described on this manuscript.

The significance of the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg handbook in reconstructing the embalming course of lies in its specification of the method being divided into intervals of 4, with the embalmers actively engaged on the mum each 4 days.

“A ritual procession of the mum marked as of late, celebrating the progress of restoring the deceased’s corporeal integrity, amounting to 17 processions over the course of the embalming interval. In between the four-day intervals, the physique was coated with material and overlaid with straw infused with aromatics to maintain away bugs and scavengers,” Sofie Schiødt says.

The embalming, which was carried out in a purpose-built workshop erected close to the grave, happened over 70 days that have been divided into two most important intervals – a 35-day drying interval and a 35-day wrapping interval.

Through the drying interval, the physique was handled with dry natron each inside and out of doors. The natron remedy started on the fourth day of embalming after the purification of the physique, the elimination of the organs and the mind, and the collapsing of the eyes.

The second 35-day interval was devoted to the encasing of the deceased in bandages and fragrant substances. The embalming of the face described within the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg belonged to this era.

Your complete 70-day embalming course of was divided into intervals of 4 days, with the mum being completed on day 68 after which positioned within the coffin, after which the ultimate days have been spent on ritual actions permitting the deceased to reside on within the afterlife.

The manuscript, which Sofie Schiødt has been engaged on for her PhD thesis, is the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg – so known as as a result of one half of the papyrus belongs to the Louvre Museum in Paris and the opposite half is a part of the College of Copenhagen’s Papyrus Carlsberg Assortment. The 2 elements of the papyrus initially belonged to 2 personal collectors, and a number of other sections of it are nonetheless lacking. Based mostly on the palaeography, that’s, the signal types, the six metre lengthy papyrus is dated to roughly 1450 BC, which implies that it predates the one two different examples of embalming texts by greater than a thousand years.

The majority of the papyrus, which is the second-longest medical papyrus surviving from historic Egypt, offers with natural drugs and pores and skin diseases. Particularly, it incorporates the earliest-known natural treatise, which gives descriptions of the looks, habitat, makes use of, and spiritual significance of a divine plant and its seed in addition to a prolonged treatise on swellings of the pores and skin, that are seen as diseases despatched forth by the lunar god Khonsu.

The Louvre papyrus has been printed in a preliminary translation by Thierry Bardinet in 2018 (Médecins et magicient à la cour du pharaon), however the remaining textual content version is deliberate for 2022 as a collaboration between the Louvre Museum and the Papyrus Carlsberg Assortment.

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