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The asphalt from the Dead Sea was an important item of trade in antiquity. Among its many uses, the most widespread was its export to Egypt for use in the mummification process, albeit at a relatively late date; that is, post 1000 BC. Its use became particularly important in the Ptolemaic–Roman period, as demonstrated by a war in the fourth century BC specifically to gain commercial control of this product. Although the reasons why the Egyptians wanted Dead Sea asphalt at this specific time are nowhere specified, the answer may lie in its increasing availability as a (partial) replacement for the plant resins used previously. A review of the historical literature shows that Dead Sea asphalt was used for at least two millennia as a biocidal agent in agricultural practices. It is proposed that the reasons for using Dead Sea asphalt in the mummification process are due to its dual role; first, as an external mechanical shield, when smeared on the exterior of mummy wrapping, to prevent ingress by insects, fungi, bacteria and moisture; and, second, as a biocidal agent (perhaps due to its high sulphur content), which prevented the flesh from decaying, the prime concern for the ancient Egyptians.
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Department of Environmental Sciences and Energy Research, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel
Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King’s Manor, York YO1 7EP, UK
The asphalt from the Dead Sea was an important item of trade in antiquity. Among its many uses,
the most widespread was its export to Egypt for use in the mummification process, albeit at
a relatively late date; that is, post 1000 BC. Its use became particularly important in the
Ptolemaic–Roman period, as demonstrated by a war in the fourth century BC specifically to gain
commercial control of this product. Although the reasons why the Egyptians wanted Dead
Sea asphalt at this specific time are nowhere specified, the answer may lie in its increasing
availability as a (partial) replacement for the plant resins used previously. A review of the
historical literature shows that Dead Sea asphalt was used for at least two millennia as a
biocidal agent in agricultural practices. It is proposed that the reasons for using Dead Sea
asphalt in the mummification process are due to its dual role; first, as an external mechanical
shield, when smeared on the exterior of mummy wrapping, to prevent ingress by insects, fungi,
bacteria and moisture; and, second, as a biocidal agent (perhaps due to its high sulphur
content), which prevented the flesh from decaying, the prime concern for the ancient Egyptians.
Although the funerary practices of ancient Egypt have been the subject of a very large number of
investigations over many years, some of these have been of very variable quality, with meaningful
understanding remaining relatively deficient.
One of the main areas of investigation has been the techniques that the ancient Egyptians
employed in order to facilitate the bodily preservation of both humans and animals. The process
of mummification basically involved removing the internal organs from the body, drying the
cadaver thoroughly and wrapping it with linen that had been anointed with ‘resins’(balms) to aid
the moulding of the contours of the body (Taylor 2001). Even though anthropogenic mummifi-
cation is currently believed to have been practised in Egypt for nearly 3500 years, from c. 2600
bc (early Fourth Dynasty) to the Christian period, the practice perhaps only ending with the Arab
conquest of Egypt in the seven century ad, some details remain unclear. Indeed, ancient Egyptian
sources provide no comprehensive description of the materials and processes used in mummifi-
cation, the only detailed reports on the techniques and materials utilized being provided by two
Greek sources, Herodotus in the fifth century bc and Diodorus of Sicily in the first century bc.Yet
even these two descriptions are somewhat different from one another in the way in which they
*Received 19 December 2011; accepted 1 March 2012
†Corresponding author: email
Archaeometry 55, 3 (2013) 563–568 doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2012.00713.x
© University of Oxford, 2012
depict the materials used in the embalming process. Although the word mumia, derived from
Latin, is borrowed from the Persian word for bitumen, there has been controversy in the
archaeological literature as to whether bitumen was in fact used in the process (e.g., Lucas 1962).
This was resolved when modern GC/MS techniques were applied to analysing samples from
mummies (Rullkotter and Nissenbaum 1988), revealing that Dead Sea asphalt (bitumen) was
indeed used by the ancient Egyptians. This was corroborated by later studies.
Although the listing of materials used in the embalming process is relatively detailed, the
reasons for utilizing a particular ingredient are not given in the above-mentioned Greek texts.
Recent authors have nonetheless suggested the reasons for the utilization of some of those
ingredients (e.g., Proefke and Rinehart 1992; Colombini et al. 2000; Buckley and Evershed 2001;
Maurer et al. 2002), and it is proposed here that, perhaps by trial and error, the particular recipe
employed was the one that resulted in the optimum preservation of bodies.
A listing of the components used in Egyptian embalming, according to Herodotus and Diodorus,
is given in Table 1. Several of these ingredients can probably be identified reasonably accurately,
and hence their sources can be traced. Cedar oil produced from trees was probably imported from
Lebanon or Cyprus, and the myrrh from Yemen or EastAfrica. The fact that the cassia/cinnamon
was produced from plants of the Lauraceae family, which are common in tropical and subtropical
areas such as India, Sri Lanka and South-East Asia, might mean that an extensive trade existed
between Egypt and the Far East for very long time. While there is no conclusive evidence for such
trade at present, there is tentative scientific evidence for the presence of cinnamon in mummies
(Buckley et al. 2004). It is also possible that the references are to the East African camphor tree
(Serpico and White 2000 and references therein), despite a current lack of chemical evidence for
the use of this material in such a context.
Particular attention has been devoted to the study of asphalt in mummies. Since the studies
of Rullkotter and Nissenbaum (1988), Connan and Dessort (1989) and Buckley and Evershed
(2001), the presence of bitumen from the Dead Sea in Egyptian mummies has been demonstrated.
Subsequent studies have also shown that the Dead Sea was not the sole source of bitumen, some
of which was produced locally in Egypt, in Gebel Zeit on the Red Sea coast (Harrel and Lewan
2002; Barakat et al. 2005).
The reasons for the use of bitumen in mummification have not been discussed in detail. In a
recent detailed study of the ingredients employed in Egyptian embalming practices, Connan
Table 1 Components used in Egyptian embalming
Herodotus (fifth century BC) Diodorus Siculus
(first century BC)
Myrrh Myrrh
Cassia Cinnamon
Cedar oil Cedar oil
Gum Spices
Aromatic spices Dead Sea bitumen (asphalt)
564 A. Nissenbaum and S. Buckley
© University of Oxford, 2012, Archaeometry 55, 3 (2013) 563–568
(2005) proposed that the bitumen was used to blacken the mummies, since this colour is
associated with the god Osiris and the cult of fertility and rebirth. After c. 600 bc, this would also
correspond to the introduction of new and highly symbolic aspects of the mummification process
(and other areas of ancient Egyptian culture; e.g., art) where, quite unlike earlier historical
periods, a less life-like appearance seems to have been the aim.
The question of why some of the ingredients—and in particular the cedar oil—were used was
investigated by Koller et al. (2005), who showed that dry distillation of cedar tree wood produced
creosote-like phenolic compounds, particularly guaiacol, that were effective in inhibiting alkaline
phosphatase and hence the decomposition of flesh. Their antibacterial properties would also have
aided bodily preservation. Koller et al. (2005) also claimed that bitumen is biologically func-
tionally inert, yet this is in conflict with the evidence that Dead Sea asphalt was widely used in
the ancient world for medicinal purposes (Nissenbaum 1999).
Asphalt was extensively utilized in the ancient world for agricultural purposes. The two major
uses were to protect tree trunks and roots (particularly those of date palms and vines) against
insect infestations, and in veterinary medicine. For example, Strabo (first century bc) quotes
Poseidonius, who describes the mining of the asphalt used as a cure for infested vines by
smearing them with a blend of asphalt and olive oil.According to Strabo (Geography, 7.5.8), this
mixture ‘kills the insects before they can mount the sprouts of the roots’ (see Strabo 1924).
Marcus Cato (first century bc) provides a detailed description of the preparation of an effective
insecticide made from bitumen, amorca (olive mill waste boiled in copper kettles and mixed with
salt) and sulphur (see Cato 1934). In the Geoponica (‘Agricultural pursuits’, ascribed—probably
wrongly—to Cassianus Bassus, English translation by Thomas Owen, 1805–6), a 20-book
encyclopaedia of agricultural knowledge compiled in 10th-century Constantinople for the
Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, a discussion of diseased vines states that
one of the ways to fight insect infestation is to rub them with boiled oil and ‘asphaltos’. The
smearing of bitumen and sulphur on fruit tree trunks above the soil level is still practised today;
called ‘grease banding’, it prevents moth caterpillars and other climbing pests from reaching the
fruit-bearing branches.
Asphalt was also used to treat skin disease of domestic animals, a specific reference for the use
of Dead Sea asphalt in veterinary medicine found in the Mulomedicina Chironis (‘Mule-therapy’
by Chiron). A compilation of veterinary medicinal practices written in the second half of the
fourth century ad, it says that cattle should be fumigated with a mixture of Judean bitumen and
plant material such as sulphurwort, castor, panax and marjoram (Stern 1976). There is also
extensive historical documentation for the application of Dead Sea asphalt as a protective agent
against biological attack on crop plants. El-Tamimi, a 10th-century ad physician from Jerusalem,
described in great detail how the inhabitants of Palestine dissolved the asphalt in oil and smeared
it on the trunks and branches of the vines in order to prevent damage by worms (Amar and Serri
A very detailed description of the use of Dead Sea asphalt as a pesticide is also given by Abd
Al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1810), who visited Saladin in Jerusalem in ad 1192 and lived there for
several years. Al-Latif wrote that bitumen of Judea is used by the inhabitants by dissolving it in
oil and smearing this mixture on the vine branches in order to prevent the worms from consuming
the vines (Abd Al-Latif al-Baghdadi 1810). Fettelus wrote in ad 1130 that Dead Sea asphalt was
used for rubbing vines in order drive away the worms that consumed them (Fettelus 1896).
Dead Sea asphalt in ancient Egyptian mummies—why? 565
© University of Oxford, 2012, Archaeometry 55, 3 (2013) 563–568
In the 11th century, the Persian traveller Abu¯ M. Nâsir-i-Khusrau provided a detailed descrip-
tion of the Dead Sea and says of its asphalt that if it is smeared on the lower part of a tree, no
worm will ever do the tree harm. In the Dead Sea region, asphalt protects the roots of the trees
and guards against damage by worms and things that crawl beneath the soil. He also wrote that
the preservative power of the asphalt was known to the druggists, who bought asphalt to protect
their drugs from attack by the ‘Nukatah’ worm (Nâsir-i-Khusrau 1893). In 1321, Abu Al-Fida
wrote that Dead Sea asphalt was used to smear vines and fig trees (Abu Al-Fida 1988).
In the 16th century, the Russian pilgrimVassily Posniakov, messenger ofTsar Ivan the Terrible,
who visited the Holy Land in ad 1560 or 1561, wrote that black tar was emitted from the Lake
of Sodom (the Dead Sea) and used to smear vines in order to kill off caterpillars (in Raba 1986).
The use of asphalt as a pesticide continued well into the 19th century. The asphalt quarried
in Hasbeya, in southern Lebanon, which belongs to the same geochemical family as the Dead
Sea asphalt and is practically indistinguishable from it, was exported to Europe for this purpose
(Connan and Nissenbaum 2004). U. J. Seetzen, the first European traveller to the area in the 19th
century, visited Hasbeya in 1807 and wrote that the asphalt mine had been worked for two
centuries, and that the asphalt was mostly exported to Europe to ‘secure the vines from insects’
(Seetzen 1810). Although this asphalt continued to be exported to Europe and the United States
during the 19th century, there are no indications for its usage during this period other than for the
production of varnishes and in painting (Languri et al. 2002).
During the second half of the 19th century, infestation by the aphid-like insect Phylloxera
practically devastated the vineyards of Europe and SouthAfrica. Many preparations were sought
to end this blight, one of them being the Dead Sea asphalt. Several kilograms of this material were
sent to France and were subjected to chemical tests, including distillation and reactions with nitric
and sulphuric acids. The results of the chemical analyses were reported by Delachanal (1883), but
without reference to biological applications.
The chemical basis of the biocidal activity of the asphalt has not been investigated. It has
been suggested (Nissenbaum 1999) that the high sulphur content of Dead Sea asphalt (~10 wt%)
may play a major role. Oxidation of the asphalt when exposed to the atmosphere produces SO2,
which is known to be a strong disinfectant and fumigant. It is also quite possible that some of
the volatile compounds in the asphalt, such as benzothiophenes and naphthalenes (Nissenbaum
unpublished data) may also play a fungicidal role similar to the utilization of thiophene deriva-
tives in agriculture.
In addition to its important inherent preservative properties, the asphalt is also likely to
have been important as a mechanical binder for aromatic oils such as cedar oil. Asphalt is highly
malleable and becomes viscous at low temperatures; at 40–50°C it resembles thick honey, and at
temperatures close to 90–100°C it flows quite freely. This would facilitate the very easy smearing
of the wrapping materials used in mummification—that is, the linen—while the pouring of hot
asphalt over the mummies or the wooden coffins that contained them would have produced a
mechanical barrier, preventing the introduction of organisms from the environment and hence the
decay of the mummies.
In the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, the Dead Sea asphalt, imported into Egypt from an area
frequently subject to wars and commercial disruptions, was employed in Egyptian mummifica-
tion at least partly to preserve the embalmed bodies against biological decay. The asphalt,
beeswax and resins used to smear the linen coverings of the body are likely to have acted as
566 A. Nissenbaum and S. Buckley
© University of Oxford, 2012, Archaeometry 55, 3 (2013) 563–568
an external shield against insects, worms and bacteria, as well as protecting the natural fibre
wrappings from decay. The use of asphalt within the body cavities of mummified corpses could
also be due to its disinfectant qualities together with its strong biocidal properties, the long-term
physical preservation of the body being of fundamental importance in ancient Egyptian religion.
The importance of asphalt exports from the Dead Sea to Egypt was so great as to be the casus
beli in 312 bc, when the Macedonian king Antigonus I ‘Monophtalmus’ of Phrygia, one of the
successors of Alexander the Great, attacked the Nabateans of the Dead Sea area in the hope
of obtaining control of the asphalt trade (Diodorus Siculus 1947). Antigonus was defeated in a
naval battle on the Dead Sea, in what might be considered the first oil war in the Middle East
(Nissenbaum 1978). The key sentence is provided by Diodorus Siculus in the first century bc
when describing the collection of asphalt in the Dead Sea by the Nabateans: ‘The barbarians who
enjoy this source of income take it to Egypt and sell it for the embalming of the dead; for unless
this is mixed with the other aromatic ingredients, the preservation of the bodies cannot be
permanent’ (Diodorus Siculus 1947).
Professor Z. Amar (Bar Ilan University, Israel), Professor A. Aufderheide (University of Minne-
sota) and Professor E. Lev (Haifa University) are thanked for valuable comments. We are
particularly indebted to Dr Joann Fletcher (University of York) for her improvements to the
manuscript and for sharing with us her extensive knowledge of Egyptian funerary practices.
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... Pokrywano nim bandaże (wraz z żywicami i woskami), co hamowało rozwój bakterii, a także chroniło przed owadami i ich larwami. (Nissenbaum & Buckley, 2013;Rullkötter & Nissenbaum, 1988). ...
... Złoża asfaltu były na tyle istotne, że w 312 r. p.n.e. Antygon I Jednooki, jeden z diadochów Aleksandra Wielkiego, zaatakował Nabetańczyków, chcąc przejąć kontrolę nad kopalniami asfaltu znad Morza Martwego (Nissenbaum & Buckley, 2013). Antygon przegrał w bitwie morskiej. ...
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... The results of the chemistry of the embalming agents suggest a date earlier than the 3 rd Intermediate Period, which is consistent with the evidence for the mummification materials and methods detailed below: the absence of bitumen is consistent with a New Kingdom date since it does not appear in balms from mummies until 900 BC [35,36]. The use of bitumen, and more liberal employment of tree resins in the embalming recipes, is seen in 3 rd Intermediate Period mummies and later, the use and proportion of both in relation to the plant oil/animal fat base increasing over time with greatest use during the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods [35,[37][38][39]. ...
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... Mats, sarcophagi, coffins and jars used for funeral practices were often sealed using bituminous materials (Connan, 1999). In ancient Egypt, bituminous materials were used for mummification (Nissenbaum andBuckley, 2013, Clark et al., 2016). Therefore, people from the ancient age were already aware of the binding and sealing characteristics of bitumen as a construction and building material. ...
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This paper aims to identify black resin's composition, beginning, and uses. Black resin was a resinous material used to cover the funerary wooden artifacts in the New Kingdom. It was used for religious purposes.and to cover coffins, shabti statues and boxes, stelae, human and animal statues, statue bases, and canopic chests. First, black resin was used in the era of Hatshepsut. Then, its use expanded in the era of Thutmose III. Therefore, the New Kingdom was the golden era of its use. In the New Kingdom, black resin was glossier than later times. The study utilized gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) attached with (TSP) Thermal Separation Probe unit was used to analyze the black resin sample. Black resin is made out of natural resins, such as mastic, colophony, beeswax, bitumen, and unknown compounds. The layer of black resin has, in its complexes, a group of natural resins and other substances whose properties are anti-fungal and antibacterial. It also has insect repelling properties. Natural resins contain essential oil. Mastic resin was of high value in Ancient Egypt. The sample was taken from a coffin dating back to the Late period, in the 26th dynasty to be analyzed because identifying its composition helps choose the best material for chemical cleaning and consolidation. The coffin under investigation was covered externally with a ground layer and a painted layer, while it was covered with a layer of black resin internally.
Bitumen is a general term for natural hydrocarbons, including asphalt, tar, and petroleum. It was widely used in antiquity for many practical applications with the most notable of these a preservative for ancient Egyptian mummies. The principal source of bitumen was the Dead Sea in Palestine, but Egypt also had other sources in the form of petroleum seeps on the shores of the Gulf of Suez. The best documented of these is the one at Gebel Zeit on the gulf's west coast. Bitumen‐impregnated limestone was also employed by the Egyptians to a minor extent for architectural and sculptural applications.
Scientific examination of mummies has provided a better understanding of the ancestry, diet, disease, medical practices, mummification processes, culture and society of human populations worldwide and from different epochs. However, many examinations have been invasive and/or destructive, leading to current-day concerns among archaeologists and mummy custodians about this methodology. Multidisciplinary approaches, notably minimally invasive biopsy, endeavour to maximise the amount of data obtained from a sample whilst minimising its size and the effects on the mummy. As an illustration of the wealth of data that can be obtained from non- and minimally invasive image-guided procedures on wrapped mummified bodies, we report here on such a study of Takabuti, an Egyptian woman who lived in Thebes during the first millennium BCE. Multiplanar and 3D reconstructive computerised whole-body tomographic imaging (CT) revealed age at death and confirmed the inscriptional evidence from the coffin regarding sex. A notable finding was ante-mortem damage to the ribs indicative of a blow by a sharp, possibly curved, object from behind, suggesting that Takabuti was murdered. Fifty milligrams of bone and thigh muscle were taken for respectively genomic and proteomic analysis. mtDNA revealed the rare Eurasian H4a1 haplogroup suggestive of the introduction of new gene pools during the Late Period. Identification and quantification of the structural and functional proteins and metabolically important enzymes indicate protracted leg muscle activity in the hours before death. Chemical analysis, microscopy and radiocarbon dating of 20–30 mg needle biopsy samples of the packing material inserted during mummification discovered wood shavings, including imported cedar, and congealed resin. Organic analyses revealed the resin to be largely vegetal in origin including wood and aromatic/preservative oils derived from Pinaceae species, identical to the mummification balm removed from the original bandages. Once the age of the trees from which the sawdust was derived has been taken into account, the packing material’s radiocarbon date indicated mummification in the Third Intermediate Period and in keeping with the previously dated hair and the stylistic dating of the coffin that placed it in the 25th Dynasty. We have shown that CT scanning combined with targeted invasive biopsy needle sampling provides a wealth of scientific information with minimal disturbance to the mummy. Molecular, biochemical and geochemical analytical techniques allow statistically robust replicate sampling but require the removal of only milligram quantities. This approach forms the basis of a generic ‘palaeobiographical’ approach to the examination of naturally and artificially preserved bodies in which both soft tissues and bone are present.
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The main objective of the present research is to explore patterns of human activity in the Judean desert, from the beginning of the sixth millennium BCE to the first half of the first millennium BCE, as reflecting social, economic, and historical processes in wider cultural contexts, while examining trends of continuity and change over the longue durée. The research is rooted in Regional and Landscape Archaeology theoretical approaches which emphasize the significance of human-environment interactions from various aspects, while adapting these approaches to the investigation of a defined, local desert environment on the border between the desert and the sown in the Southern Levant. Another goal of the study is the construction of a structured methodology to discuss ancient activity patterns in the Judean Desert, especially with regard to the definition and dating of sites. This requires acknowledging the limitations of archaeological data in desert regions, specifically at sites with meager architectural and portable remains, while utilizing every scrap of information stored in them in a systematic mode transparent to critical evaluation. The dissertation consists of five components: 1) a critical review of past spatial surveys conducted in the Judean Desert, especially the Emergency Survey of 1967-1968 and the En Gedi map survey; 2) the results of a high-resolution sample survey conducted in the Masada and Har Badar maps, in the southern part of the region; 3) a re-examination of selected types of architectural sites without reliable dating; 4) a reevaluation of all sites and site clusters well-dated to the periods under study; and 5) analysis of cave use patterns in the region. Research methods included the study of available archival materials, both written/graphic documentations and artifacts, followed by a re-examination of the sites in the field, aimed at gathering essential archaeological and environmental data missing in previous reports. In addition to the Masada-Har Badar high resolution sample survey, I conducted a renewed survey of selected sites first surveyed during the Emergency Survey. The results of these two surveys, together with the Dead Sea Escarpment cave survey (DSES) conducted over the past decade, have assisted in sharpening the conclusions of the critical examination of past studies, while adding new data sets that allow a comprehensive re-evaluation of human activity patterns in the Judean Desert. The examination of pottery sherds and lithics collected in past surveys raises serious difficulties in accepting the suggested dating for most sites previously dated to the periods under consideration. The dating of many sites to the Chalcolithic period and Early Bronze Age was based on a handful of coarse-ware sherds that cannot be reliably dated. The absence of indicative sherds leaves common architectural site types without clear dating, including enclosures, tumuli, carnivore traps and long walls. In addition, only half of the sites dated to the Iron Age during the Emergency Survey contain indicative sherds, and only a quarter have more than two such sherds, indicating significant activity. The critical evaluation of past surveys casts doubts not only on previous reconstructions of regional activity patterns but also on the use of survey results that lack systematic methodological criteria for dating artifacts and architectural elements associated with them. As part of the high resolution sample survey in the Masada and Har Badar maps, 200 sherd scatters (=sites) were documented in 24 sample squares (0.25 each square, 6 in total). This new database allows the analysis of spatial distribution of sites with meager architecture, from single vessel sites to large campsites. Of the 200 sites, only 11 could be reliably dated to the chronological sequence under consideration, including five sites dated to the second half of the second millennium BCE (the first discoveries from this time-span in the study area), and six Late Iron Age scatters found along a major traffic route north of the Ze'elim valley. The survey results demonstrate the contribution of high-resolution surveys to the identification of under-represented activity patterns and time-spans in the region, while illustrating once-again the limitations of surveys as a tool for accurate dating of most sites scattered in the desert landscape. The diachronic examination of regional activity patterns, based on well-dated sites, shows that significant presence of semi-nomadic pastoralists in the Judean Desert cannot be ascertained for the periods under consideration, given the absence of dated seasonal encampments and due to the difficulties in dating site types which are commonly attributed to such societies (e.g. tumuli and carnivore traps). On the other hand, the region was intermittently used by the ‘people of the sown’, especially those living in the Judean Highlands, for various purposes, taking advantage of its environmental resources which include winter-spring pastures, Dead Sea asphalt (and salt?), precipitous canyons with numerous difficult-of-access caves used probably as refuge places, and dramatic scenery favored for locating regional ritual centers. The earliest appearance of these patterns, also known from the historical periods, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (5-3 millennia BCE), is to be associated with the increasing level of social complexity along the bumpy road that led to the formation of the earliest urban societies in the Southern Levant. This trend has brought new economic opportunities, expressed in the commercial exploitation of natural resources; new centers of power, as manifested in the establishment of central ritual localities; and amplification of violent conflicts, reflected in episodes of temporary refuge as a result of inter-societal tensions and/or external threats. The identified activity patterns in the Judean Desert, a local desert in the rain shadow of the settled lands, significantly differ from those characterizing the continuous desert belt south and east of the Levant, which hosted semi-nomadic populations based on pastoralism and partly engaged in the exploitation of desert resources (e.g. copper). During the Late Iron Age, the Judean Desert witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of dated sites, the result of a sudden intensification in the involvement of the ‘people of the sown’ in the region. In my opinion, the motivation behind this dramatic change is economic, related to the development of run-off and irrigation agricultural systems in the Dead Sea oases and the Hyrcania Valley for the growing of valuable cash-crops, particularly palm dates and incense plants. Alongside the establishment of the administrative and agricultural infrastructure, a better regional control was achieved by the erection of small strongholds, although these may also have had primarily economic importance (supervision of royal herds?). It is clear that only substantial developments - technological, economic, and social - would have allowed such a fundamental change in regional activity patterns compared to previous periods. These developments are to be connected with the emergence of a territorial entity with a firm regional control over the Judean Desert, i.e. the kingdom of Judah, and to the broad economic and cultural relations characteristic of the imperial era of the Late Iron Age, which allowed the import of incense plants native to distant regions and their implementation in the newly-built agricultural systems in the Judean Dead Sea Valley.
The core tenet of modern integrated pest management (IPM) advocates a combination of methods to suppress and live with pest populations rather than simply obliterating them via environmentally damaging pesticides. Ecologists often trace the roots of the modern IPM movement to the late 19th century, when farmers and others drew on common knowledge about insect biology to devise “multitactical strategies” by which to control them (Kogan 1998), but archaeological evidence suggests that this approach is much more ancient (Panagiotakopulu et al. 1995). The people of pharaonic Egypt achieved a remarkably balanced response to pest control, which they employed successfully over the course of 4,000 years. They were undoubtedly plagued both physically and economically by invertebrate pests (Panagiotakopulu 2001, Evans and Weinstein 2019). For example, the practice of mummification has preserved the remains of endoparasites (e.g., calcified eggs from the blood fluke, Schistosoma haematobium (Bilharz); Kloos and David 2002), as well as signs of insect-transmitted disease (e.g., Plasmodium falciparum Welch, a parasite responsible for malaria; Nerlich et al. 2008). Medical texts include prescriptions for the treatment of roundworm and hookworm, while tapeworm eggs (Taenia spp.) found in coprolites reveal that livestock were similarly affected (Donald 1984). Medical texts also offer advice for easing irritation caused by human fleas (Pulex irritans L.) and lice (Pediculus humanus L.), the remains of which have been found adhered to human hair (Fletcher 1994). Common bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) and fleas (Panagiotakopulu and Buckland 1999, Panagiotakopulu 2004) hint further at unhygienic living conditions, as does extensive post-mortem insect residue on and in mummified bodies (e.g., Huchet 2010)—from the exoskeletons and dung of necrophagous beetles including Dermestes spp. (skin beetles) and Necrobia spp. (bone beetles) to abundant pupae of flies such as house flies, Musca domestica L., and blow flies, Chrysomya albiceps (Wiedemann). The recent discovery of a dog mummy infested with ticks [Rhipicephalus sanguineus (Latreille)] dating from the Roman period (Huchet et al. 2013) again shows that animals as well as humans were attacked by invertebrate pests.
RATIONALE Mummification is one of the defining customs of Ancient Egypt. The nuances of the embalming procedure and the composition of the embalming mixtures have attracted the attention of scientists and laypeople for a long time. Modern analytical tools make mummy studies more efficient. METHODS Comprehensive two‐dimensional gas chromatography ‐ high resolution mass spectrometry with complementary ionization methods (electron ionization, positive chemical ionization, electron capture negative ionization) with a Pegasus GC‐HRT+ 4D instrument was used to identify embalming components in the mummy from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts acquired in 1913 in London at the de Rustafjaell sale. The mummy dates back to the late Predynastic period (direct AMS‐dating 3356‐3098 BC), being one of the oldest in the world. RESULTS The results demonstrated the complexity of the embalming mixtures that were already in use 5000 years ago. Several hundred organic compounds were identified in the mummy samples. Various types of hydrocarbons (triterpanes, steranes, isoprenoid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) prove the presence of petroleum products. Iodinated compounds detected using electron capture negative ionization define oils of marine origin, while esters of palmitic acid indicate the use of beeswax. The nature of the discovered components of conifer tar proves that the preliminary processing of conifer resins involved heating. GCxGC/HRMS also allowed a number of modern contaminants (phthalates, organophosphates, and even DDT) to be identified. CONCLUSIONS Application of a powerful GCxGC/HRMS technique with complementary ionization methods allowed significant widening of the range of organic compounds used for mummification that could be identified. The complexity of the embalming mixtures supports the hypothesis of the high social status of the child made on the basis of the preliminary study of the mummy.
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Surface manifestations of asphalt (bitumen) are found in the Dead Sea area as blocks that float on the lake surface and then are cast up on its shores, as seepages from rocks, and as cement of dry-stream gravel. This asphalt has been extensively employed for a variety of uses, including in medicine. The historical evidence on the medicinal uses of Dead Sea asphalt spans at least 2000 years. While many of the attributes of Dead Sea asphalt as a drug in antiquity are not based on medical evidence, certain treatments using Dead Sea asphalt may have been confirmed by modern medicine. For example, the application of asphalt as a therapy for skin diseases, in humans and in animals, has been borne out in modern times by extensive experimentation. The nature of the active ingredient or ingredients in the asphalt has not been investigated as yet. It is possible that its effectiveness relates either to the high concentration of reduced sulfur compounds in the asphalt or to its content of polyaromatic organic compounds. Both ingredients were successfully employed in modern dermatological practices.
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An analytical procedure for the characterization of plant resins, waxes, bitumen, oils and their degradation products in mummy balms is described. The method is based on the selective extraction of these compounds from 19 samples with CH2Cl2 and, after drying the residue, with n-hexane, followed by a Florisil chromatographic clean-up step of the non-polar extract and by the saponification of an aliquot of dried CH2Cl2 extract. Polar compounds were derivatized with t-butyl-dimethyl silyl trifluoroacetamide (MTBSTF A). Quantitative determinations were obtained by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The procedure, tested on suitable reference materials such as beeswax and plant resins, showed a recovery of about 100% for non-polar compounds. Using this method, pine resins (P. pinea and P. sylvester), mastic resin (Pistacia lentisca and P. terebinthus), sandarac (Tetraclinis articulata), elemi ( Canarium), dammar (Hopea), myrrh (Commiphera) and a pine resin from the second century A.D. were characterized. Identification was based on the characteristic pattern of the diterpenoid and triterpenoid compounds contained in these natural products. Results on Egyptian mummy samples from the seventh century B.C. were obtained and showed that the main components used in the embalming process were mastic resin from the genus Pistacia, an unidentified vegetable oil, beeswax and bitumen. Terpenoids degraded by a thermal treatment were also found; therefore a hot fluid was used for embalming, confirming the practice hypothesized in the Late Period by egyptologists.
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Chemical analysis of balms of mummies, identification of bitumen in most funerary artefacts and balms of mummies. significance of the occurrence of bitumen in balms and funerary coatings
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Embalming material contained in four mummies from the Roman Period (4th century ad ) excavated in the Dakhleh Oasis, Western Desert of Egypt, were analysed for the soluble lipid components. According to the distribution patterns of n -alkanes, steroid hydrocarbons, polycyclic terpane hydrocarbons, n -fatty acids, diterpenoid acids and wax esters, the embalming material mainly consists of plant material including coniferous resins and possibly beeswax. In addition, fossil bitumen was present in all samples, but of different composition in samples from the cranial cavities and the thorax. The bitumen in the thorax samples closely resembles the composition of Dead Sea asphalt.
Chemical treatments were an essential element of ancient Egyptian mummification. Although the inorganic salt natron is recognized as having a central role as a desiccant, without the application of organic preservatives the bodies would have decomposed in the humid environment of the tombs. The nature of the organic treatments remains obscure, because the ancient Egyptians left no written record of the process. Secondary textual evidence for mummification is provided by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus4, Strabo and Pliny. The most important account is that of Herodotus3 (about 450 yr bc), although archaeological evidence shows that by this time the process had declined significantly and the best results had been achieved centuries before. His account mentions myrrh, cassia, palm wine, 'cedar oil' (still widely disputed) and 'gum'; however, it is vague with respect to the specific natural products used. Here we report the results of chemical investigations of a substantial collection of samples of tissues, wrappings and 'resinous/bituminous' materials from provenanced and dated Egyptian mummies. We focused on examples of the 'classic' mummy-making culture of the Pharaonic or dynastic period, from which we can begin to track the development of mummification chronologically.
Fast atom bombardment combined with mass spectrometry (FAB/MS), high resolution FAB/MS, FAB tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS), and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) were used to determine the composition of the resinous material recovered from the wrappings of an Egyptian mummy believed to be from the Roman period (100–350 A.D.). FAB/MS and MS/MS studies identified several oxidation products of abietic acid as the principal resin components, indicating that one or more species of coniferous trees were used by the Egyptians as a source of the resin. GC/MS studies also identified several n-alkanes with carbon numbers from C19 to C33 in the sample. The relative amounts of these n-alkanes, along with characteristic trace metals, indicate that bitumen, an asphalt native to the region, was added to the resin. The presence of this ancient source of carbon in this sample explains the inconsistent date assigned to the mummy by carbon-14 analysis.
Asphalts are present in the Dead Sea basin in three forms: (1) huge blocks, up to 100 tons in weight, composed of extremely pure (>99.99%) solid asphalt occasionally found floating on the lake, (2) veins, seepages, and cavity and fissure fillings in Lower Cretaceous to Holocene rocks, and (3) ozocerite veins on the eastern shore of the lake. Dead Sea asphalts probably have been documented over a longer period of time than any other hydrocarbon deposit--from antiquity to the 19th century. Major uses of asphalt from the Dead Sea have been as an ingredient in the embalming process, for medicinal purposes, for fumigation, and for agriculture. The first known war for control of a hydrocarbon deposit was in the Dead Sea area in 312 B.C. between the Seleucid Syrians and the Nabatean Arabs who lived around the lake. Surface manifestations of asphalt are linked closely to tectonic activity. In the lake itself, the asphalt is associated with diapirs During certain historic periods, tectonic and diapiric activity caused frequent liberation to the Dead Sea surface of semiliquid asphalt associated with large amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas. When the tectonic activity was attenuated, as in the 19th and 20th centuries, the rate of asphalt seepage to the bottom sediments of the Dead Sea was much slower and the asphalt solidified on the lake bottom. The release of asphalt to the surface became much more sporadic, and may have resulted in part from earthquakes. Thus, future asphalt prospecting in the Dead Sea area should be conducted along the boundaries of diapirs or their associated faults.