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Mother Of Ancient Egyptians

No, it is not Egypt, China or Latin America, but Portugal, where the world’s oldest mummy has been found! Previously, it was not understood that ancient corpses were mummified in the European country. Portuguese Archaeologist Manuel Farinha dos Santos (1923-2001), who discovered the mummies, claimed that those were 8,000-year-old. (1) Interestingly, all the mummies were in good condition. It may be noted that ancient corpses have been found in different parts of the globe. Nearly 43,000-year-old remains have been found in Europe, too. (2)

In an article published recently in the European Journal of Archaeology, researchers mentioned that the 8,000-year-old remnants of the Sado Valley still have clear signs of mummification. Nearly six decades after the discovery, they thanked Santos for taking beautiful pictures of those mummies. After developing some of the negatives that were there, and re-analysing the photos with the help of modern technology, researchers have come to the conclusion that those bodies were mummified most probably to facilitate transportation. They have also used those photographs to reconstruct some tombs in two cemeteries. While doing so, researchers have noticed that the bones of a skeleton were hyperflexed. In other words, the body was tightly tied with something. Although it is not in the same condition now, one can easily realise that the person was tied after her/his death.

The image at the top middle shows the location of the skeleton two years and two months after the excavation

Furthermore, the skeletal bones were attached to a tomb. Surprisingly, the very small bones of the feet, which usually break when the body rots, still remain intact. After visiting the cemeteries and analysing the images, researchers have realised that other bodies, buried at the site, might have been mummified. Perhaps, this custom was widespread in the southern part of Portugal at that period of time.

The volume of soft tissues decreases during mummification

Researchers have further claimed that arms and legs of the mummified person were tied tightly and placed on a high structure so that the decaying fluid would come out of the body easily. The carcass was also dried by fire in order to make the mummification easier. And, the body was tied tightly after that. Hence, the limbs bent down after some time, and came together. The entire process made the bodies smaller and lighter, facilitating their transportation. Of course, it is not easy to predict why these bodies were mummified.

Mummification was a common practice in ancient Egypt more than 4,500 years ago, and the practice started in other parts of Europe in about BCE 1000. The Chinchorro mummies, found in the coastal region of the Atacama Desert in Chile, are believed to be up to 1,000 years older than Egyptian mummies. However, the newly identified mummy in Portugal has broken all the previous records, as it is the oldest one in the world.

References:

  1. Rita Peyroteo-Stjerna et al., Mummification in the Mesolithic: New Approaches to Old Photo Documentation Reveal Previously Unknown Mortuary Practices in the Sado Valley, Portugal, Published online by Cambridge University Press: March 03, 2022
  2. J J Hublin et al., Initial Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria. Nature. Vol. 581, May 11, 2020, pp. 299. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2259

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