Temporal and spatial changes in the composition of ancient Egyptian mummification resin

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr B Van Dongen, Dr Vicky Coker, Dr Keith White  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The Ancient Egyptians believed that preservation (mummification) of the body immediately following death was essential if the individual was to be resurrected in the afterlife. Mummification included the application of preservatives (‘resin’), largely derived from plant and animals, to the eviscerated and dehydrated body to prevent decay. Some of the resin components would additionally impart a pleasant smell to the body prior to internment. The use of preservatives in Egyptian mummification date back to around the beginning of the second millennium BCE and continued until the advent of Christianity in the early fourth century AD. During this very long period of time there is evidence that the composition of the resins changed (Buckley et al, 2004; Abdel-Maksoud & El-Amin, 2011). The reasons for such changes are unclear but are likely to include preservative properties, availability and changes in religious doctrine and practice. One well-documented change is the increasing use of bitumen from around the beginning of the first millennium BCE (Clark et al., 2016). Resins were applied not only to the exterior of the body and the wrapping bandages but also to the body cavity following evisceration and the interior of the skull. Resins were also included in the packing material that was added to maintain the shape of the body, and to the internal organs that were then either returned to the body or placed in purpose-made containers and entombed with the mummy (Amorós and Vozenin-Serra, 1998; White et al 2021).

In this project the student will utilise a number of modern geochemical methods and approaches as well as light and electron microscopy to examine the composition of the resin applied to mummies from different periods of ancient Egyptian history. This would be to (i) examine and identify the composition of the external and internal resins, (ii) relate temporal changes in composition to the availability of raw materials, socio-economic status and changes in religious practice and (iii) identify if there are differences in the composition of resin applied exteriorly and that used in the preservation of the eviscerated organs and the packing material. Samples will primarily be sourced from the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology Mummy Tissue Bank and the Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest (Dr Hedvig Győry and Dr Enikő Szvák; external collaborators on this project), and the student would be involved in the sampling and transport of the material from both locations.

The student working on this cross-disciplinary project will gain a wide breadth of training in minimally invasive sampling and a wide range of analytical (geo)chemical techniques such as thermal-desorption and pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS), energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis (EDXM),light/electron microscopy and Fourier Transform Infra-red (FTIR) analyses and would suit a student with a background in any of these fields. They will have access to world-class facilities in the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science at the University of Manchester. The techniques will provide a basis for a future career in archaeology, environmental science and to the wider field of geochemical analysis.

To apply;

Application queries for this project can be sent to [Email Address Removed]  

To make an application please visit here https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/admissions/how-to-apply/

When applying please search and select programme ' PhD Environmental Science' and plan 'PhD Environmental Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology'

Chemistry (6) Geology (18)

Funding Notes

This is a self funded project for start in 22/23 academic year. Tuition fee for Home students is £11,000 and £32,000 for EU and International students. There is potential for this project to be funded in the future.


• Abdel-Maksoud, G. & El-Amin, A.-R. (2011). A review of the materials used in the mummification processes in Ancient Egypt, Mediterranean Archaeology & Archaeometry, 11(2), pp. 129-150.
• Amorós, V. A. & Vozenin-Serra, C. (1998). 'New evidence for the use of cedar sawdust for embalming by ancient Egyptians', Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 84, pp. 228-231.
• Buckley, S. A., Clark, K. A. &Clark, K., Ikram, S. & Evershed, R. (2016). The significance of petroleum bitumen in ancient Egyptian mummies, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, 374:20160229(2079), p. 15.
• Evershed, R. P. (2004). Complex organic chemical balms of Pharaonic animal mummies, Nature, 431(7006), p. 294.
• White, K., van Dongen, B. & Fraser, S. (2021). Analysis of Takabuti’s Mummification Resin and Packing Material, in David, A. R. & Murphy, E. (eds.) Life and Times of Takabuti in Ancient Egypt: Investigating the Belfast Mummy. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 107-110.

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