Category Archives: AFRICA

Over 130 Roman Inscriptions Uncovered At Ancient Site Of Mustis In Northern Tunisia

Over 130 Roman Inscriptions Uncovered At Ancient Site Of Mustis In Northern Tunisia

Inscriptions have played a very important role in deciphering the secrets of the past. Archaeologists have uncovered over 130 inscriptions at an important ancient site in Tunisia.

Experts discovered a series of inscriptions at the abandoned city of Mustis. They are expected to provide numerous insights into the history and development of this important ancient metropolis.

A team from the Warsaw University’s Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, in cooperation with Tunisian National Heritage Institute, was surveying the ancient city of Mustis, near Thugga, Tunisia. A number of epigraphic experts were involved in the project.

The mission was led by Professor Tomasz Waliszewski and it finished its work, only recently. During the survey, they found a large number of inscriptions.

During their investigations of the ancient ruins, the team found over 100 inscriptions. They all date to the era when this area was part of the Roman province of Africa. Waliszewski stated that “Our epigraphic team has already inventoried over 130 Latin inscriptions from Roman times” reported The BBC.

The epigraphers found a large number of texts that had been engraved onto buildings and tombstones. Those found on buildings tell the story of Mustis’ development, including the construction of public buildings and temples.

The headstones provide the names of citizens and “other everyday matters of the bustling city’s inhabitants” according to The BBC . The inscriptions are important because they tell us what was important to the citizens and they are a treasure trove for historians.

Roman inscriptions found on headstones.

Moreover, the inscriptions are providing evidence with regard to the political history of the city. Mustis was “a municipium (a town with self-government bodies) at the time of Emperor Augustus” according to the Roman Art Lover. The inscriptions can tell researchers a great deal about the government and institutions of the metropolis. Roman Africa was renowned for its many cities and the texts can also tell us much about the process of urbanization in this part of the empire.

This is not the first time that inscriptions have been found in the area. Waliszewski, estimates “that there are over 500 Latin inscriptions in the Mustis area and nearby” reports The BBC. Some of these celebrate the achievements of emperors such as the North African Septimius Severus.

Mission leader Professor Tomasz Waliszewski points out one of the Roman inscriptions.

‘Mustis, or Musti, was first established by Numidians who had created a strong kingdom in the area. This realm was conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC after they defeated its king Jugurtha, and it was turned into a proconsular province.

Mustis was turned into a colony, by the conquerors. The famed general Marius “settled some of his veterans at Mustis which was redesigned according to usual Roman patterns” according to the Roman Art Lover.

The colony soon thrived because of its location on key trade routes and was probably a cosmopolitan society. Its economy was mainly dependent on agriculture.

Mustis, where the inscriptions were found, was an ancient Roman metropolis with rural suburbs.

Archaeologists have unearthed several temples, dedicated to Roman gods , such as Ceres, the Roman goddess of farming and cereals. Many villas have also been unearthed in the city that once belonged to the elite. An arch dedicated to the Roman emperor Gordian I was also built in the eastern entrance to Mustis and it can still be seen. Mustis went into decline in the 5th century as the Vandals, first raided and then conquered North Africa.

The Byzantines reconquered the city in the mid-6th century, but it never recovered its former glory. They turned the city into a small fortress, although the remains of a Christian basilica have been found in the ruins of the city.

It also appears that Mustis was a bishopric. The city declined after the Arab conquests and the “last excavated objects found in the city come from 12th century” suggesting that it was abandoned, sometime after that date, according to the BBC.

The ruined city was largely left intact down the centuries and it was re-discovered in the 19th century. In the 1960s many of the remains were restored, such as the Eastern Arch.

It is now part of an archaeological park but the remains in the area have been neglected for years. It is hoped that further research will be undertaken on the site and it is expected that more inscriptions will be found, revealing more about life in ancient Roman Africa.

Apart from the numerous Latin inscriptions, the excavations shed new life on the Roman urbanization of the region.

Tutankhamun’s penis was fully ERECT when he was mummified so he would look like a god in the afterlife

Tutankhamun’s penis was fully ERECT when he was mummified so he would look like a god in the afterlife

A new study suggests that King Tutankhamun of Egypt was uniquely embalmed, including having his penis mummified at a 90-degree angle, in an effort to combat a religious revolution unleashed by his father.

In Egypt’s Valley of the Kings the Pharaoh was buried without a hearth (or a replacement artifact known as a heart scarab); his penis was mummified erect, and his mummy and coffins were covered in a thick layer of black liquid that appears to have resulted in the boy-king catching fire.

In recent years, these anomalies have attracted attention in both scholars and the press, and a new paper in the journal Études et Travaux by Egyptologist Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo, proposes a reason why they, and other Tutankhamun burial anomalies, exist.

A digital representation of what Tutankhamun may have looked like

The mummified erect penis and other burial anomalies were not accidents during embalming, Ikram suggests, but rather deliberate attempts to make the king appear as Osiris, the god of the underworld, in as literal a way as possible. Of course, it is very unlikely that he would’ve asked for his penis to be pierced so that he could make it exciting, as it was probably unheard of back then, unlike now. The erect penis evokes Osiris’ regenerative powers; the black liquid made Tutankhamun’s skin color resemble that of Osiris, and the lost heart recalled the story of the god being cut to pieces by his brother Seth and his heart buried.

Making the king appear as Osiris may have helped to undo a religious revolution brought about by Akhenaten, a pharaoh widely believed to be Tutankhamun’s father, Ikram said.

Akhenaten had tried to focus Egyptian religion around the worship of the Aten, the sun disc, going so far as to destroy images of other gods. Tutankhamun was trying to undo these changes and return Egypt back to its traditional religion with its mix of gods. Ikram cautions that her idea is speculative, but, if correct, it would help explain some of the mysteries surrounding Tutankhamun’s mummification and burial.

Tutankhamun’s erect penis

Tutankhamun’s mummified penis eventually broke off from his body after the mummy was discovered, at one point leading to media speculation that it had been stolen. Can you imagine feeling the need to steal a penis? Sounds like they’re in need of some different brilliant ideas for fun with their own penis, not someone else’s! Ikram has yet to encounter another Egyptian mummy buried with an erection. “As far as I know, no other mummy has been found thus far with an erect penis,” she told BBC in an email.

The imagery of King Tutankhamun’s erect penis has a connection to the god Osiris, Ikram said. “The erect penis evokes Osiris at his most powerfully regenerative moment, and is a feature of ‘corn-mummies,’ the quintessential symbols of rebirth and resurrection,” she writes in her paper. Corn-mummies were nonhuman artificial mummies created in later periods in honor of Osiris. They were made of a mix of materials, including grain.

Tut on fire

Evidence revealed in a recent documentary suggests that literally Tutankhamun’s mummy went up in flames, something apparently brought about by a large number of black oils and resins applied to his body.

The embalmers applied an abnormally large amount of this black goo like material to Tutankhamun’s body for the time period in which he lived and they also applied it to the pharaoh’s coffins. In October 1925, Howard Carter, an archaeologist who led the team that discovered the tomb in 1922, wrote, “the most part of the detail is hidden by a black lustrous coating due to pouring over the coffin a libation of great quantity.”

Archaeologist Howard Carter examining the third mummy-shaped sarcophagus, 1922, vintage photograph
This is what Tutankhamun looked like when the mummy’s bandages were unraveled

Using large amounts of this black liquid, which turned King Tut’s skin a blackish color, may have been a deliberate attempt to depict the pharaoh, as literally as possible, as Osiris.

“The mass of oils and resins applied to Tutankhamun’s body might also allude to the black color associated with Osiris as lord of the land of Egypt, dark with the rich soil of the inundation, and the source of fertility and regeneration,” Ikram writes in the paper.

A missing heart

Another mysterious anomaly is the absence of the pharaoh’s heart and lack of a heart scarab to serve as a replacement. “This organ was a key component for the successful resurrection of the body,” Ikram wrote, noting that in Egyptian mythology, the heart was said to be weighed against the feather representing the god Maat to determine if one was worthy of resurrection.

The absence of Tutankhamun’s heart or heart scarab does not appear to be the result of theft, she noted, but, instead, maybe an allusion to a famous story in the legend of Osiris when his body was cut apart by his brother Seth and the god’s heart was buried.

A cut typically used to remove a mummy’s internal organs was unusually “brutal” and large on King Tut, Ikram noted, another allusion, perhaps, to Seth’s butchery of Osiris. Other pieces of evidence also point to Osiris. For instance, the burial chamber’s north wall shows King Tut as Osiris through its decoration.

“Tutankhamun is shown as a fully-fledged Osiris – not simply a wrapped mummy,” Ikram noted. “This representation of the king as Osiris is unique in the Valley of the Kings: Other tombs show the king being embraced by Osiris or offering to him.”

Full circle

In a sense, Ikram’s idea, if it is correct (Ikram is careful to note that her idea is speculative), brings the investigation of Tutankhamun’s mummy full circle. It was Carter who first noted the pharaoh was being depicted as Osiris.

“Perhaps Carter’s emphasis in his notes during the unwrapping and examination of the mummy is more correct than even he thought: the king was indeed being shown as Osiris, more than was usual in royal burials,” Ikram writes in her paper. Tutankhamun, and/or those who embalmed him, may have been pressured to do this in reaction to the failed religious revolution attempted by his father.

“One can speculate that at this delicate historical/religious time, it was thought that the usual modes for the transformation of the king were not sufficient, and so the priest-embalmers prepared the body in such a way so as to literally emphasize the divinity of the king and his identification with Osiris,” Ikram writes.

Stunning Face Hidden for Thousands of Years: Wooden Sarcophagus Is Unearthed at Egyptian Necropolis

Stunning Face Hidden for Thousands of Years: Wooden Sarcophagus Is Unearthed at Egyptian Necropolis

A wooden sarcophagus found at an undisclosed location in Egypt. This object has been found by Spanish archaeologists from Jaen’s University at the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis in Aswan, Egypt.

The team, who have been working in Egypt for a month, has also found a tomb dating back to the year 1830 BC and some twenty mummies in it.

The works are part of an archaeological campaign lead by Spanish professor Alejandro Jimenez Serrano and seventeen experts from two Spanish universities and a British university based in London work at the archaeological campaign.

Encased in soil, this extraordinarily delicate face emerges into the sun for the first time in thousands of years. The wooden sarcophagus was unearthed by archaeologists at the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan, Egypt.

Believed to contain the body of a person of some rank, it boasts extraordinarily delicate features, well-preserved by the sands of time.

The wooden sarcophagus was found at the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan, Egypt
The wooden sarcophagus was found at the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan, Egypt

Since starting a fresh excavation, they have also discovered 20 mummies and uncovered a tomb dating from around 1830BC.

He said that his team came from a number of different disciplines which allowed a broad focus.

It had also allowed them ‘to develop new techniques such as RTI or scanning in 3D which helps read hieroglyphic texts with greater accuracy,’ he added.

The team had already found two smaller tombs in earlier digs.

Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis was in use from 2250BC and provided the last resting place for some of the country’s most important officials.

A string of 40 tombs cut into a rocky cliff face, the burial ground also forms one of the best vantage points of the city of Aswan.

Rare Lion Cub Mummies Revealed in The Latest Treasure Haul at Egypt’s Saqqara

Rare Lion Cub Mummies Revealed in The Latest Treasure Haul at Egypt’s Saqqara

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities today announced two mummified lions, dating from approximately 2,600 years, in a tomb full of cat statues and cat mummies at Saqqara, at a press conference.

This cat statue, along with many others, was discovered in a tomb discovered at Saqqara in Egypt.

Mostafa Waziri, General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Egypt, said that “this is the first time that a lion or lion cube’s complete mummy is being found” in Egypt. who led the team that made the discovery. 

The analysis is ongoing, but it appears the Lions are fairly small — about 3 feet (just under 1 meter) in length, — Waziri said, suggesting that they were not fully grown when they died.

Three other mummies that belong to large cats (the exact species is unclear) were found near the two lions. These three other mummies could belong to leopards, cheetahs or other forms of the big cat. About 20 mummies of smaller cats were also found near the lion cubs. 

About 100 statues and statuettes were found near the burials, many of which depict cats. The cat statues are made of stone, wood or metal (such as bronze), and “most of them well painted, well decorated and some were inlaid with gold,” Waziri said. 

About 100 statues, many of cats, were found in the tomb. They are made of wood, metal or stone. A few are gilded with gold.
Several small cat mummies were found in the tomb.
Three large cat mummies and some small mummies can be seen at the archaeological site at Saqqara. It’s not clear if the lion mummies are shown in this photo.

A small ebony statue of the goddess Neith was also found within the tomb, a discovery that helped archaeologists determine the tomb’s date, said Khaled al-Anani, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities.

Neith was a goddess of the city of Sais, which was the capital of Egypt during the 26th dynasty (around 2,600 years ago), Anani said. 

A massive scarab-shaped artifact that appears to be more than a foot (30 centimeters) in diameter was also found in the tomb.

Scarab-shaped artifacts are frequently found in Egypt and were used as seals, amulets and jewelry. This particular scarab artifact might be the largest example ever found in Egypt, the archaeologists said. 

Catty location

The area of Saqqara where the tomb was discovered seems to be a cat hot spot, so to speak. Previous archaeological digs in the area have uncovered the remains of cat mummies and cat statues, and in 2004 a French team found the partial remains of a lion skeleton.

It seems that around 2,600 years ago, the area was a place of commemoration for the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet and her son the lion god Miysis, Anani said. 

While cats dominate this part of Saqqara, they do not rule exclusively, as previous archaeological excavations in the area have found mummies of other animals such as birds, Waziri said. 

In other parts of Saqqara, many other types of archaeological remains can be found, including Egypt’s first pyramid, a step pyramid built by Djoser, a pharaoh who ruled more than 4,600 years ago. It is the oldest pyramid constructed in Egypt.

Recently, several other interesting archaeological discoveries have been made at Saqqara, including a 2,000-year-old catacomb containing the burial of a “worthy” woman named “Demetria.” Recent discoveries also include a 2,500-year-old silver face mask gilded with gold and a 4,400-year-old tomb built for a “divine inspector” named “Wahtye.”

‘He was NOT murdered!’ Egypt expert solves Tutankhamun mystery after new DNA test

‘He was NOT murdered!’ Egypt expert solves Tutankhamun mystery after new DNA test

Tutankhamun was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who was the last of his royal family to rule at the end of the 19th Dynasty during the New Kingdom.

Known as “the boy king,” he inherited the throne at just nine years old and mysteriously died less than a decade later, with his legacy seemingly wiped from the face of the planet, leading many to claim he was murdered.

When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, it received worldwide interest as the pharaoh’s body was discovered alongside 5,000 artifacts in 1922.

One of the best-known Egyptologists believes that he has finally solved and the mystery of the death of Tutankhamun. He claims that the young pharaoh died after his leg became infected after an accident.

The expert claims that he has conclusive evidence that Tutankhamun was not murdered, a theory that is popular among some specialists.

He was the son of Akhenaten, the notorious heretic pharaoh, who married his own sister. As a result, Tutankhamun is believed to have been born with a number of deformities, including an elongated skull.

Tutankhamun died while he was very young. Because of damage to his mummified corpse, it has been very difficult to officially establish the cause of death, reports the Tutankhamun.com London website. There are several theories about the cause of death of the young monarch.

One theory holds that he was murdered, which was developed in the 1960s after a loose piece of bone was found in his skull. This was believed to have been the result of “a hard blow to the head” according to Tutankhamun.com London.

Close-up of King Tut’s head.

However, the theory that he was murdered has been challenged by Dr. Zahi Hawass, one of the most high-profile experts on ancient Egypt in the world. He long ago rejected the theory that King Tutankhamun was murdered.

The expert argues that the piece of loose bone fell from the skull of the pharaoh after death. A recent scan indicates that there are no traces or marks that would indicate that Tutankhamun received a blow to his head before he died.

The other widely accepted theory is that “a leg fracture suggests an accident may have led to his downfall” reports the Daily Star. Tests have shown that King Tut’s leg had a jagged fracture. This possibly became infected and ultimately led to his death.

The mummy of King Tut.

The Egyptologist now believes that he will soon prove that the pharaoh died as a result of this accident and was not murdered.

Zahi Hawass and his team have developed a ‘new machine’ that will confirm the theory, states The Daily Mail. This will finally prove that the pharaoh died from a leg wound claims Hawass.

The Egyptologist states that the new techniques will allow Tut’s leg to be scanned.

Dr. Hawass also told the Daily Star, “We know that he had a fracture on his left leg and that fracture was an accident that happened to him two days before he died”. This scan will determine if he died of an infection in his leg.

King Tut’s chariot.

In the ancient world, even relatively minor infections could prove fatal. Dr. Hawass has previously proven that Tut was suffering from malaria and as a result may have been too weak to fight off any infection.

The world-renowned Egyptologist told the Daily Star that “if he had an infection then this will confirm the idea that he died in an accident”.

This would have meant that he probably died after falling from a chariot, possibly during a hunt. However, it is likely that we may never know for certain how he fractured his leg.

An expert claims that King Tut died from injuries resulting from a chariot accident.

Dr. Hawass believes that he and his team will finally prove how King Tutankhamun died in the coming year. He also hinted that their tests may reveal more secrets about the famous boy king.

At present many of the treasures from King Tut’s tomb are on display at an exhibition, in London at the Saatchi Gallery, which runs until the summer of 2020.

Ancient Egypt: Archaeologists Discover Hidden Palace Marked With Symbols of Ramesses the Great

Ancient Egypt: Archaeologists Discover Hidden Palace Marked With Symbols of Ramesses the Great

An Egyptian palace was discovered on the same site as Ramesses II’s adjacent Temple by New York archeologists.

The palace and temple are located at the ancient site of Abydos, Egypt, where numerous kings are also buried.

Archaeologists were excavating in and around the temple when they discovered the palace.

Ramesses II

They first found a walkway made from stones at the southwest entrance to the temple and they ended up finding a new entrance to a different building that had the markings of Ramesses II.

When the researchers excavated the cornerstones of the temple, they noticed very similar royal symbols.

The newly found symbols and the discovery of the palace give archaeologists more information regarding temples from that period of time.

In fact, for the first time in around 160 years, the floor plan of the temple will have to be changed because of these new discoveries.

Ramesses II was also known as Ramesses the Great and is considered to be one of the most important rulers in Egypt’s ancient times.

It is believed that he ruled from 1279 B.C. to 1213 B.C. He is said to have built huge temples and put cartouches (an oval engraving that represents the name and title of a monarch) on several of the monuments.

Cartouche found at the palace site identifying Ramesses the Great.

Professor Joann Fletcher from the University of York informed Newsweek that King Ramesses III’s Luxor funerary temple also included a palace.

The ancient city of Abydos is located about 300 miles south of Cairo and is where pharaohs from the dynasties of the earliest times are believed to be lying in tombs.

These early dynasties include Qaa from the first one ever, as well as Peribsen from the second dynasty.

Abu Simbel, the Great Temple of Ramesses II, Egypt

The city also includes temples that are dedicated to the god Osiris and the Pharaoh Seti I.

In fact, around the years 2025 B.C. to 1700 B.C. (also known as the Middle Kingdom), many people went to the city to worship Osiris.

Fletcher stated, “The new discovery will certainly emphasize the way Ramesses II, like his father Seti, saw Abydos as the origin of royal power,” adding, “The fact Ramesses II required a palace at Abydos also reveals that he didn’t just order a new temple at the site but was spending enough time there to warrant such accommodation.”

She went on to explain that the discovery “begins to balance out Abydos’ role as purely a cemetery and temple site. To have a building in which people lived their lives is always a fascinating thing to find.”

Climate change may be behind fall of an ancient empire, say researchers

Climate change may be behind fall of an ancient empire, say researchers

Despite a plethora of cuneiform textual documentation and archaeological excavations and field surveys, archaeologists and historians have been unable to explain the abruptness and finality of the historic empire’s collapse.

Numerous theories about the collapse have been put forward since the city and its destruction levels were first excavated by archaeologists 180 years ago.

But the mystery of how two small armies — the Babylonians in the south and the Medes in the east — were able to converge on Nineveh and completely destroy what was then the largest city in the world, without any reoccupation, has remained unsolved.

A team of researchers — led by Ashish Sinha, California State University, Dominguez Hills, and using archival and archaeological data contributed by Harvey Weiss, professor of Near Eastern archaeology and environmental studies at Yale — was able for the first time to determine the underlying cause for the collapse.

By examining new precipitation records of the area, the team discovered an abrupt 60-year megadrought that so weakened the Assyrian state that Nineveh was overrun in three months and abandoned forever. The research was published in Science Advances on Nov. 13.

An artist’s vision of the interior of an Assyrian palace, based on drawings made in 1849 by Austen Henry Layard on the site of 19th-century excavations.

Assyria was an agrarian society dependent on seasonal precipitation for cereal agriculture. To its south, the Babylonians relied on irrigation agriculture, so their resources, government, and society were not affected by the drought, explains Weiss.

The team analyzed stalagmites — a type of speleothem that grows up from a cave floor and is formed by the deposit of minerals from water — retrieved from Kuna Ba cave in northeast Iraq.

The layers of a stalagmite record the climate conditions of the time when they were created.

The speleothems can provide a history of climate through the oxygen and uranium isotope ratios of infiltrating water that is preserved in its layers.

Oxygen in rainwater comes in two main varieties: heavy and light. The ratio of heavy to light types of oxygen isotopes is extremely sensitive to variations in precipitation and temperature. Over time, uranium trapped in speleothems turns into thorium, allowing scientists to date the speleothem deposits.

Weiss and the research team synchronized these findings with archaeological and cuneiform records and were able to document the first paleoclimate data for the megadrought that affected the Assyrian heartland at the time of the empire’s collapse when its less drought-affected neighbors invaded.

The team’s research also revealed that this megadrought followed a high-rainfall period that facilitated the Assyrian empire’s earlier growth and expansion.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire rose during an unusual time of wet climate and collapsed soon after conditions swung to unusual dryness.

“Now we have a historical and environmental dynamic between north and south and between rain-fed agriculture and irrigation-fed agriculture through which we can understand the historical process of how the Babylonians were able to defeat the Assyrians,” said Weiss, adding that the total collapse of Assyria is still described by historians as the “mother of all catastrophes.”

Through the archaeology and history of the region, Weiss was able to piece together how the megadrought data were synchronous with Assyria’s cessation of long-distance military campaigns and the construction of irrigation canals that were similar to its southern neighbors but restricted in their agricultural extent.

Other texts noted that the Assyrians were worrying about their alliances with distant places, while also fearing internal intrigue, notes Weiss.

“This fits into a historical pattern that is not only structured through time and space but time and space that is filled with environmental change,” says Weiss. “These societies experienced climatic changes that were of such magnitude they could not simply adapt to them,” he adds.

With these new speleothem records, says Weiss, paleoclimatologists and archaeologists are now able to identify environmental changes in the global historical record that were unknown and inaccessible even 25 years ago. “History is no longer two-dimensional; the historical stage is now three-dimensional,” said Weiss.

Weiss’ previous research defined the 2200 B.C.E. global megadrought that generated societal collapse from the Mediterranean to China.

In addition to Weiss, researchers from California State University-Dominguez Hills, Xi’an Jiaotong University, University of Minnesota, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Ankara, and the University of Southern California contributed to the study.

Scientists explore Egyptian mummy bones with X-rays and infrared light

Scientists explore Egyptian mummy bones with X-rays and infrared light

Mummy’s bones are examined by lasers, x-rays and infrared technology which ‘ shine a light on ‘ daily life in ancient Egypt.

A collection of bone specimens from 2,000 to 4,000 years were tested using the Advanced Light Source at the California-based Berkeley Laboratories.

The bones are exposed to a range of wavelengths of clear light that can be used to investigate the composition, structure and other properties of the samples.

‘The bones are acting as an archive,’ said Mohamed Kasem from Cairo University who worked on the study.  

The researchers made ‘very thin slices’ of femur bones as part of the study, which they hope will be able to show how people lived, their diet, health and daily lives. 

A number of discoveries into the way the people of ancient Egypt lived are already being revealed thanks to the research – although a lot more time is needed to analyse the data, said Dr Kasem.

The team used a chemical-analysis technique, where a short laser pulse blasts away a small volume of material from a sample. The emitted light from the blast is then studied to determine what elements are present. 

‘We have found a lead, aluminium, and other elements that give us an indication of the environment and the toxicity of that time. That information is stored right in the bones,’ Dr Kasem said.

For example, while the ancient Egyptians didn’t use aluminium in metal-working, researchers have found that they used potassium alum, a chemical compound containing aluminium, to reduce cloudiness in drinking water. 

The team used X-rays to study how the collagen in the bones of the mummies compare to modern humans. When an X-ray is shined through the collagen the X-rays are scattered and the pattern of scattering they make can show researchers how healthy and well preserved the collagen is.

The collagen assemblies generally aren’t as well ordered in the ancient samples as in healthy modern bones, said Eric Schaible, a Berkley scientist.

The samples were brought over from Egypt by scientists from Cairo University and represent four different dynasties in Egypt: the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, Late Period and Greco-Roman period. They have also examined soils taken from burial sites of the human remains.

‘So many factors affect preservation. One of them is how long the bone has been buried in soil and also the state of the bone and the different types of soil,’ said Dr Kasem.

Differences in embalming techniques could also affect the preservation of the bone and the chemistry they find in the X-ray studies.  ‘There are different qualities in the materials, like the cloth and the resins they used to embalm,’ he said. 

The soil samples will help distinguish whether chemical concentrations in the bone samples were related to the individuals’ health, diet, and daily lives, or whether the chemicals in the soil had changed the bones’ chemistry over time. 

The samples were recovered from two Egyptian sites – Saqqara, the site of an ancient burial ground and Aswan, the site of an ancient city on the bank of the Nile once known as Swenett.

It’s hoped the research into the way the soil interacts with the bones could help in future projects to preserve mummified remains.  

‘It’s very exciting to be involved in this project, and to learn about the journey these mummies have been on, in life and after death,’ Dr Schaible said.