On October 6th, 2015 we learned about

British bones bear badge of Bronze Age mummification

Identifying a mummy should be pretty cut and dry, right? Preserved bodies, sealed in pyramids, surrounded by gifts for the afterlife, case closed? We’ve actually known for some time that ancient Egypt was not the only culture to mummify their dead, and new research techniques may be about to expand that list significantly. The latest addition came from as far from a desert pyramid as you could imagine, having been exhumed from a bog in England.

One of the advantages of preserving the dead in a desert is the dry conditions should help slow the body’s decomposition. However, swampy conditions can help preserve a corpse as well, thanks to the fine sediment sealing the body away from disturbances and savaging organisms (which has also helped create a lot of fossils we find today). The body wasn’t really comparable to an Egyptian pharaoh though, as the flesh wasn’t still present. Fortunately, even the remaining bones can tell the story of the earlier mummification.

Bones without (major) bioerosion

Microscopic analysis of the bones were looking for signs of putrefactive bioerosion. Most bones have plenty of evidence of decomposition, unless they’ve been preserved in some way. Once the newly discovered bones were examined, they were compared to known mummies from Ireland and Yemen. Since they had similar patterns of bioerosion, it seems safe to say that the skeleton from Bronze Age England had be preserved after death, possibly from techniques like organ removal or even smoking over a fire.

This new technique for examining bones is likely to change our conception of the practice of mummification and burial rituals. Other bodies from Bronze Age England have shown signs of preservative efforts, but this microscopic analysis technique opens the door to finding mummification in the story of many more skeletons. It’s possible that these¬†burial rituals were much more widespread than we’d even thought to look for, in England and beyond.

Source: Mummification was commonplace in Bronze Age Britain by University of Sheffield, Phys.org

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