A doctoral student in Denmark has uncovered the oldest instruction manual on mummification to date. Sofie Schiodt of the University of Copenhagen deciphered a papyrus from ancient Egypt that goes back about 3,500 years, reports CNET. The papyrus is a medical text of sorts, and the section on embalming makes up only a small portion of it. In fact, details are so scant that it appears to have served more as a memory aid than a comprehensive how-to manual on the process, notes Live Science. That speaks to how the art of mummification was likely passed on orally from one embalmer to the next, per a news release from the university. Only two previous instruction manuals have been discovered, and this latest one predates them by about 1,000 years. Among its revelations are how embalmers went about preserving a person's face.
"We get a list of ingredients for a remedy consisting largely of plant-based aromatic substances and binders that are cooked into a liquid, with which the embalmers coat a piece of red linen," explains the release. The embalmer would then place the linen over the person's face and repeat this process every four days. The technique has not been previously described, but it meshes with the discovery of mummies whose faces were covered in cloth and resin, according to Schiodt. The entire embalming process took 70 days, the first half of which was focused on drying the body, reports CTV. The second half centered on wrapping the body in "bandages and aromatic substances," per the release. The papryus itself is about 20 feet long, with one half at the university and the other half at the Louvre. Researchers didn't realize until 2018 that they were connected. (Read more mummification stories.)