Researcher Discovers Oldest ‘Recipe’ for Mummy‑Making on 3,500‑Year‑Old Papyrus
Notes on how to make a mummy have been found within a 3,500-year-old papyrus manuscript from Ancient Egypt. It is the oldest extant and only the third record of its kind, as mummification was considered a sacred art, and new practitioners were typically inducted orally into the process for cleansing and preserving bodies in preparation for the afterlife.
The mummification instructions were found within a medical text detailing treatments for skin ailments and other herbal remedies. The manuscript, as determined by the written symbols used, dates to around 1450 BC and predates the other two extant mummification recipes by more than 1,000 years. It is known as the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg manuscript, a six-metre-long scroll split into pieces. One half of the scroll is housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the other half is part of the Carlsberg collection at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Sofie Schiødt, an Egyptologist from the University of Copenhagen, was able to reconstruct much of the embalming process from the snippet within the larger manuscript. One key section dealt with the process for embalming a face, describing the recipe for cooking plants with other organic matter into a fragrant and anti-bacterial liquid used to coat a red linen swatch. The fabric was then placed on the soon-to-be mummy’s face and changed out every four days. Schiødt says these notes track to the discovery of fabric-and-resin face coatings on mummies that date to the same era as the manuscript.
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The instructions outline a 70-day schedule for embalming, 35 of which were devoted to drying the body and 35 of which were devoted to preserving and wrapping it with aromatic bandages. Somewhat surprisingly, the use of natron — a disinfectant and drying agent known from other records to be the primary treatment in the mummification process — was not mentioned in this manuscript, perhaps because it was a simpler, fundamental procedure that wouldn’t have required notes to remember.
“Many descriptions of embalming techniques that we find in this papyrus have been left out of the two later manuals, and the descriptions are extremely detailed,” Schiødt said in a statement. “The text reads like a memory aid, so the intended readers must have been specialists who needed to be reminded of these details, such as unguent recipes and uses of various types of bandages.”
The text also details a series of ritual processions held every four days, when the facial (and likely other) wrappings were changed, as part of the mummification process. Such processions — 17 in all — celebrated “the progress of restoring the deceased’s corporeal integrity,” Schiødt said.
Schiødt has published her translation and analysis of the manuscript in her Ph.D. thesis. The full translation of the Louvre papyrus will be released in 2022.