Secrets of Ancient Egypt

In a twist of my ancient history section of the blog, some news from ancient Egypt rather than Rome.

I came across a few articles recently, which just make me itch to send Felix on a long road-trip… I think you’d agree they’re just delicious 😉

First, it seems like Ancient Egyptians Mastered Mummification Long Before the Time of Pharaohs. Like everything else in history, it’s a reminder that things don’t just pop up suddenly. History is often far more involved and convoluted then we tend to think. In fact, whenever I come a across a ‘single reason’ argument that tries to explain something – anything – in history, it automatically makes me cringe and/or yell in frustration. (If you’ve read my article about historical combat and the stress I put on context, you know what I mean.)

Another interesting discovery is a ‘One of a Kind’ 4,400-year-old Tomb Discovered in Egypt:

Next, for the main course of this article (a comment whose taste will be made clear soon enough) we have some specific details: Ancient Egyptian mummification ‘recipe’ revealed. The title is probably a bit too dramatic, as titles often are, as the general ingredients have been known for a while. Interestingly, when analysing the specific formula the researchers have identified tree resin, likely used for its antibacterial properties.

Another ingredient that was possibly used for the same reasons is honey.

Honey is an amazing thing. Due to several factors of its chemical composition (hyper-saturation of sugars, bee enzymes, etc.) it doesn’t spoil. It has long been used in medicine, as well as one of the world’s oldest alcoholic drinks (mead). Jars of honey have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, either as buried treasures or offering to the gods. There is some evidence that it was also used as an ingredient in mummification.

Which brings me to this friend-of-a-friend anecdote:

The Egyptians also preserved their dead in honey. ‘Abd
el-Latif relates that an Egyptian worthy of belief told him
that once when he and several others were occupied in
exploring the graves and seeking for treasure near the
Pyramids, they came across a sealed jar, and having
opened it and found that it contained honey, they began to
eat it. Some one in the party remarked that a hair in the
honey turned round one of the fingers of the man who was
dipping his bread in it, and as they drew it out the body of a
small child appeared with all its limbs complete and in a good
state of preservation; it was well dressed, and had upon it
numerous ornaments.

Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, The Mummy: Chapters on Egyptian Funereal Archaeology, 1894, p.183

This may make you go off sweets for a while, but it isn’t too far fetched. Herodotus reports that Assyrians embalmed their dead in honey, and evidence of the practice has been found from the Caucasus to Egypt to China (though if you ask me, mellification stems from a Chinese misunderstanding of reports of the practice). In fact, it’s possible that the body of Alexander the Great was submerged in honey to preserve it. Plutarch cites Egyptian mummification, but Wallis Budge suggests honey as there was a two year gap between dying in Mesopotamia till his body was moved to Egypt, and the technique was known in both places.

Despite his corpse being moved and reburied occasionally, Alexander’s body was reputedly finally preserved in a vat of clear honey in his mausoleum in Alexandria. It has remained on display, looking lifelike for centuries. So lifelike, in fact, that 300 years later, Augustus, allegedly, accidentally, broke his nose off. (One wonders if our moralistic first emperor had sticky fingers, or was just after extra aroma in his mulsum…)

Anyway, for anyone who knows me and my fascination with ancient “recipes” — any volunteers? Felix would like to try something…


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