History Files


Ancient Egypt

Wooden Coffin Yields Mummy

BBC News, 31 March 2003

Archaeologists have discovered some of the oldest evidence yet of mummification.

Human remains covered in resin and cloth were found inside a 5,000-year-old cedar wood coffin at Sakkara near Cairo, Egypt.

The coffin had been placed in a tomb thought to date from 3100 to 2890 BC under Egypt's First Dynasty.

"We found more than twenty tombs built of mud bricks in this area and inside these tombs we found sarcophagi intact for the first time, completely enclosed in mud brick," said Dr Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

"When I opened this mud brick up I found the oldest mummy inside.

"The mummy has been dated to about 3000 BC and this mummy was covered completely with linen when we found it.

The discovery was made on Sunday.

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 last few years we've had to revise our views on how long mummification has been going on," commented the British Museum's John Taylor.

"Some bodies were found at a site called Hierakonpolis in the southern part of the Nile Valley. They show signs of mummification with resin and linen and they go back to around 3400 BC," the assistant keeper in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan said.

"This latest find is obviously a very early example of mummification. Any new information like this is bound to add to our knowledge of what is quite an unclear picture at the moment."



Images and text copyright BBC or affiliates. Reproduction is made on a 'fair dealing' basis for the purpose of disseminating relevant information to a specific audience. No breach of copyright is intended or inferred.