History Files


Ancient Egypt

Wooden Coffin Yields Mummy

Edited from BBC News, 31 March 2003

Archaeologists in March 2003 announced the discovery of some of the oldest evidence of mummification so far to be uncovered.

Human remains covered in resin and cloth were found inside a five thousand year-old cedar wood coffin at Sakkara near Cairo in Egypt. The coffin had been placed in a tomb which was thought to date from between 3100 BC to 2890 BC during Egypt's First Dynasty.

Dr Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, and his team found more than twenty tombs built of mud bricks in this area, and inside these tombs they found sarcophagi which had remained intact, completely enclosed in mud brick. When he opened up the mud brick he found the oldest mummy inside. It was dated to about 3000 BC and was covered completely with linen when it was found.

Artificial preservation

The Egyptians were known to be burying their dead in small pits in the sand as far back as 5000 BC, relying on the heat and dryness of the desert to preserve bodies. Chemical means of preservation were certainly in use by about 2700 BC.

Methods used between 1567-1200 BC were the most effective at preserving the dead, and the remains of King Ramses II, who ruled during that period, have been displayed at the Egyptian Museum.

Mummification could involve the removal and dehydration of internal organs and embalming with linens and resins. In the few years before this particular discovery, Egyptian experts had already revised their views on how long mummification had been going on.

Some bodies were found at Hierakonpolis in the southern part of the Nile Valley. They showed signs of mummification with resin and linen and these could be dated back to around 3400 BC. This latest find was obviously a very early example of mummification. Any new information like this was bound to add to existing knowledge of what was quite an unclear picture.



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