For centuries, scientists have studied and thought about how the ancient Egyptians made mummies. Now the newly discovered text, housed in a six-meter-long scroll of papyrus, can shed light on the ancient process of mummification.
It was Danish Egyptologist Sophie Schiwdt at the University of Copenhagen who made the discovery in a 3,500-year-old papyrus scroll, part of which is in the Louvre Museum in Paris and the other at the University of Copenhagen.
The new text contains previously unknown detailed descriptions of the embalming process. It’s like a diary or a brochure, perhaps aimed at professionals, who need to be reminded or updated about the recipes and the different types of wrappers that will be used. The simpler and more famous procedures have been omitted from the text, says Sofie Schiødt.
Detailed instructions for the face
The papyrus tells us, among other things, how the 70-day process is surrounded by rituals and ceremonies, and how the work has been divided into four-day periods. But it also contains more practical descriptions, including detailed instructions on how to embalm the dead’s face.
The ingredient list consisting mainly of aromatic herbs is boiled together in a liquid, then a piece of red linen cloth is moistened. The cloth is placed around the face of the deceased, in a protected cover of perfumed, antibacterial linen.
In addition to the instructions for embalming, the papyrus contains one of the earliest known medical texts from ancient Egypt. It describes the use of different types of herbal medicine, about the religious significance of sacred plants and tells how to treat swollen skin.
The two parts of the papyrus previously belonged to a private group and total six meters in length, but several parts of the original text are missing. Parts of the papyrus were translated by Egyptologist Terry Bardent.
Play the clip to hear Sophie Scheidet tell more about the method.