Sophisticated mummification is 4,000 years old: new evidence

Mummy remains reveal 'sophisticated' embalming techniques a thousand years older than first thought
2 min read
24 October, 2021
The new discovery of 'sophisticated' mummification techniques believed to be a thousand years older than previously thought could lead to a rewriting of the history books.
The discovery was made by analysing the preserved body of high-ranking nobleman Khuwy [source: Getty]

Ancient Egyptians were carrying out "sophisticated" mummification techniques a thousand years earlier than first thought, according to new evidence. 

An analysis of one of the oldest mummies ever discovered has proved that techniques involving embalming the dead in fine linen and high-quality resin were around some 4,000 years ago - much earlier than previously believed. 

This discovery, based on the preserved body of a high-ranking nobleman called Khuwy found in 2019, has shocked Egyptologists and potentially explodes current timelines about ancient civilisations. 

"If this is indeed an Old Kingdom mummy, all books about mummification and the history of the Old Kingdom will need to be revised," said Professor Salima Ikram, head of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo to Sunday newspaper the Observer

"This would completely turn our understanding of the evolution of mummification on its head. The materials used, their origins, and the trade routes associated with them will dramatically impact our understanding of Old Kingdom Egypt."

The Old Kingdom of Egypt is the period spanning from 2700 to 2200 BC, known as the "Age of the Pyramids". It is the first of three "golden ages" in ancient Egypt. 

Before this discovery, mummification techniques during the early period were believed to be relatively simple, involving basic desiccation, no removal of the brain and only occasional removal of the internal organs. The use of resins was thought to be far more limited in the Old Kingdom. 

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However, Professor Ikram said Khuwy’s body was "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".

The discovery was made during the filming of National Geographic’s documentary series Lost Treasures of Egypt, which follows archaeologists during their excavation projects. 

The discovery of Khuwy's mummified body in Saqqara in Giza was televised in an earlier season. The investigation into its dating and analysis takes place in the new season. 

Hieroglyphs revealed that the tomb belonged to Khuwy, who was living in the era of the fifth dynasty in the Old Kingdom. However, it was only through further investigation that the mummification techniques were also attributed to this period. 

Mummification, a process that has become an iconic to ancient Egyptian civilisations, involves preserving the body after death by deliberately drying or embalming flesh. It is intended to preserve the body for the after-life.