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Papyrus Manuscript Dating Back 3,500 Years Holds the Oldest Guide to Mummification

An Egyptian antiquities experts cleans a 3000-year-old sarcophagus. (Image for representation/ REUTERS)

An Egyptian antiquities experts cleans a 3000-year-old sarcophagus. (Image for representation/ REUTERS)

Danish Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt from the University of Copenhagen calls it the oldest guide to mummification and dating back to 3,500-years.

History buffs with an interest in Egypt have often found themselves wondering about the entire process of mummification, although the actual mummification process is quite gory. According to a newly analysed ancient papyrus from the country, there are some pretty grotesque steps involved in mummy-making. The document is referred as “Mummification for Dummies” but formally called “Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg manuscript.” It was split in two parts, one was in custody of the Louvre Museum in Paris, while the other piece belongs to University of Copenhagen’s Papyrus Carlsberg Collection.

Danish Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt from the University of Copenhagen calls this the “oldest guide to mummification.” It is around 3,500-year-old; predating the other two known mummy-guides by 1,000 years. Some sheets are still reported missing .The Copenhagen half of the manuscript has been translated for the very first time. It details the embalming process involved in preservation of the dead bodies.

“We get a list of ingredients for a remedy consisting largely of plant-based aromatic substances and binders that are cooked into a liquid, with which the embalmers coat a piece of red linen,” Schiødt said in a press release.

The ancient document is a part of her PhD thesis and the full details will be published next year, however, she teased about some factoids from the document. According to her statement, the red linen encases the dead body’s face with “a protective cocoon of fragrant and anti-bacterial matter.”

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During the embalming process, the body would be “dried out” using various chemical compounds. The drying would take approximately 35 days followed by wrapping, again taking a similar amount of time.

The embalmers would work on the mummy every four days. During the intervals, the bodies were kept covered in straw with some aromatic compounds. This was done to prevent insects or scavengers from messing with the corpse. The completion of the process would last 68 days and a “procession into afterlife” ritual would follow next.

Very few manuscripts or guide books exist on mummification because the process was considered sacred. It would follow from priest to priest by memory and words alone.