These Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Reveal New Details on the Mummification Process

Archaeologists discover a large cache of ceramic pots from the sixth century B.C.E. containing resins, oils and myrrh used for embalming

Pot
The largest cache of embalming vessels discovered in Egypt included pots containing resins, oils and myrrh. Petr Košárek, Charles University

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a cache of mummification materials—the largest of its kind ever unearthed—dating back 2,500 years, reported Kamal Tabikha of the National last month.

The trove of embalming items includes 370 large ceramic pots and several smaller artifacts used in the mummification process, per Radio Prague International. Egyptologists from the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague unearthed the vessels while excavating deep shafts at an ancient necropolis in Abusir, south of Cairo. The tombs are located near the pyramid of Djoser, named for the first king of the Third Dynasty (2650 to 2575 B.C.E.) of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2613 to 2181 B.C.E.), when many of the pyramids were constructed.

“It is probably the largest complex and undisturbed find of its kind originating from ancient Egypt,” Mohamed Megahed, deputy head of the archaeological mission, told Patricia Claus of the Greek Reporter.

The collection of funerary pots had been buried in layers in a 45-foot-deep shaft, according to the National. Experts have dated the items to the 26th Dynasty of Egypt, which occurred during the sixth century B.C.E., a time when Egyptian pharaohs were opening the country to foreign traders and settlers.

Embalming Jars
Limestone jars used to hold viscera from bodies were found at an archaeological dig site in Abu Sir, Egypt. Petr Košárek, Charles University

Archaeologists have been working at Abusir since the 1960s. The team reported that the site contains a series of burial shafts that appear to have belonged to elite members of Egyptian society. Per the Greek Reporter, nearby tombs have been identified as belonging to admiral and physician Udjahorresnet and general Menekhibnekau, who lived during the 26th Dynasty (664 to 525 B.C.E.).

“The 2021 season was part of a long-term project aimed at uncovering antiquities dating back to an era when ancient Egyptian society was looking for new ways to preserve the unique Egyptian identity,” mission leader Miroslav Barta said in a statement. “The tombs of Abu Sir… played a major role in showing the unique Egyptian culture, which was expressed by the Egyptian eras in that period.”

Archaeologists found the items divided into 14 groups, each with seven to 52 amphora-shaped containers, many including residues of resins, oils and myrrh, reported Mustafa Marie of Egypt Today.

“Among the objects we found there were other smaller vessels as well as pieces of ashes from a fire that burned somewhere near the place where the person was mummified,” Jiří Janák, one of the researchers, told Radio Prague International. “We also found remnants of natron, a substance that the Egyptians used to dry the dead body.”

Jars
Archaeologists discovered 370 ceramic pots containing remnants of materials used in mummification of bodies in ancient Egypt. Petr Košárek, Charles University

In addition, the team unearthed four limestone containers used to store viscera removed from bodies during the embalming process, per the National. The vessels were carved with the names of people but contained no remains.

“What we found were empty canopic jars, which had not yet been used,” Janák told Radio Prague International. “Interestingly, there were inscriptions on them including the name of the owner. That’s what helped us identify the person to whom this deposit belonged.”

According to the hieroglyphs, the jars belonged to a man named Wahibre-Mery-Neith, son of the Lady Irturu, reported the Greek Reporter. It may be difficult to identify the individual since his was common in that period.

Many of the jars discovered at Abusir have yet to be opened. Researchers plan to further analyze the containers and their contents this year, reported the Greek Reporter. Archaeological excavations at the site will continue as well, Muhammad Mujahid, the team’s deputy director, said in the statement.

“Imagine an area that’s about two square kilometers (less than one square mile) in size,” archaeologist Veronika Dulíková told Radio Prague International. “We have an amazing concession here with enormous potential. We estimate that only around 10 percent of the total area has been explored so far.”

The Abu Sir tombs are located near the pyramid of Djoser, who was the first king of the Third Dynasty (2650 to 2575 B.C.E.) of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (2613 to 2181 B.C.E.), when many of the pyramids were constructed.

According to the team, many of the jars discovered at Abu Sir have not yet been open. Researchers plan to continue analyzing the containers and their contests this year, reports the Greek Reporter.

Archaeological excavations at Abu Sir are expected to continue during 2022, Muhammad Mujahid, the team’s deputy director, says in the statement. Archaeologists has been working at the site since the 1960s but report there is still more work to be done.

“Imagine an area that’s about two square kilometers (about 1.2 miles) in size,” archaeologist Veronika Dulíková tells Radio Prague International. “We have an amazing concession here with enormous potential. We estimate that only around ten percent of the total area has been explored so far.”