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Mummy found in expansive cemetery of Egyptian pharaohs could change the way ancient history is understood

Mohamed Mujahid (left), head of the Egyptian mission who discovered the tomb of former Egyptian nobleman Khuwy inspects the walls of the tomb inside the Saqqara necropolis on April 13, 2019. Mohamed Al-Shahed / Getty Images

  • It is believed that an Egyptian mummy embalmed with advanced techniques is much older than initially thought.

  • The discovery suggests that sophisticated mummification techniques were used 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

  • Experts say the discovery could “revolutionize our understanding of the evolution of mummification.”

New analysis of an ancient Egyptian mummy suggests that advanced mummification techniques were used 1,000 years earlier than previously believed, rewriting the understood history of ancient Egyptian burial practices.

The find centers on a mummy, known as Khuwy, who is said to have been a high-ranking nobleman. It was excavated at the Necropolis, a vast ancient cemetery of Egyptian pharaohs and royals near Cairo, in 2019.

Scientists now believe Khuwy is much older than previously thought, dating back to the Old Kingdom of Egypt, which would make him one of the oldest Egyptian mummies ever discovered, The Observer reported.

The Old Kingdom stretched from 2,700 to 2,200 BCE and was known as the “Age of the Pyramid Builders”.

Khuwy was embalmed using advanced techniques that would have been developed much later.

Her skin was preserved using expensive resins made from tree sap, and her body was impregnated with resins and bound with high quality linen dressings.

The new analysis suggests that ancient Egyptians living around 4,000 years ago performed sophisticated burials.

“It would completely disrupt our understanding of the evolution of mummification,” Professor Salima Ikram, head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, told The Observer.

“If it is indeed an Old Kingdom mummy, all books on mummification and Old Kingdom history will need to be revised.”

Mummy found in expansive cemetery of Egyptian pharaohs could change the way ancient history is understood

Workers excavate a burial site in Saqqara on January 17, 2021. KHALED DESOUKI / AFP / GETTY

“Until now, we thought Old Kingdom mummification was relatively straightforward, with basic desiccation – not always successful – no brain removal, and only the occasional removal of internal organs,” said Ikram at The Observer.

Ikram was surprised at the amount of resin used to preserve the mummy, which is not often recorded in Old Kingdom mummies.

She added that generally more attention was paid to the exterior appearance of the deceased than to the interior.

“This mummy is awash in resins and textiles and gives a completely different impression of mummification. In fact, it looks more like mummies found 1,000 years later,” she said.

Ikram told The National that the resin used would have been imported from the Middle East, most likely Lebanon, demonstrating that trade with neighboring empires at that time was more important than previously thought.

The find was documented in National Geographic’s new series, Lost Treasures of Egypt, which begins airing on November 7.

Tom Cook, who produced the series for Windfall Films, told The Observer that Ikram initially couldn’t believe Khuwy dated back to the Old Kingdom due to advanced mummification techniques.

“They knew that the pottery in the tomb was from the Old Kingdom but [Ikram] I didn’t think the mummy came from [that period] because it’s been too well preserved, ”Cook told the outlet.

“But during the investigation she started to come back [to the idea]. “

Khuwy’s ornate tomb featured hieroglyphics suggesting that the burial took place during the Fifth Dynasty period, from the early 25th to the mid-24th century BCE, the Smithsonian said.

Archaeologists also found pottery and jars used to store body parts during the mummification process that dated back to this time.

Ikram’s team will perform further tests to confirm that the remains belong to Khuwy.

She told the National that one possibility was that another person may have been mummified and buried centuries later during a grave reassignment.

“I remain hesitant until we can do a carbon-14 dating,” Ikram told the outlet, adding that it would likely take six to eight months.

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