Organic residue analysis of Egyptian votive mummies and their research potential

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Rhea Brettell; William Martin; Stephanie Atherton-Woolham; Ben Stern; Lidija McKnight;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 62, Number 2, p.68-82 (2017)


Vast numbers of votive mummies were produced in Egypt during the Late Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, and Roman periods. Although millions remain in situ, many were removed and have ultimately entered museum collections around the world. There they have often languished as uncomfortable reminders of antiquarian practices with little information available to enhance their value as artefacts worthy of conservation or display. A multi-disciplinary research project, based at the University of Manchester, is currently redressing these issues. One recent aspect of this work has been the characterization of natural products employed in the mummification of votive bundles. Using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and the well-established biomarker approach, analysis of 24 samples from 17 mummy bundles has demonstrated the presence of oils/fats, natural waxes, petroleum products, resinous exudates, and essential oils. These results confirm the range of organic materials employed in embalming and augment our understanding of the treatment of votives. In this first systematic initiative of its kind, initial findings point to possible trends in body treatment practices in relation to chronology, geography, and changes in ideology which will be investigated as the study progresses. Detailed knowledge of the substances used on individual bundles has also served to enhance their value as display items and aid in their conservation.