60-Second Science

Pharaohs Got Yummy Mummy Meals

Researchers have determined the recipe used to preserve meats that were buried along with Egyptian pharaohs. Cynthia Graber reports

Ancient Egyptian mummies were carefully embalmed and entombed with golden jewelry, furniture and clothing. And to make sure they did not go hungry on their travels, they were also buried with mummified meat. King Tut was accompanied by 48 wooden cases that held a variety of cattle and poultry joints prepared for dinner.

Archaeologists have known about this penchant for after-death munchies, but they didn’t understand how the meat was treated. So researchers in Egypt and in the U.K. examined samples from both the Cairo and the British Museums.

They extracted balm from meat samples and their wrappers. The meat included beef ribs and a calf some 2000 years old. The wrapping contained fats that did not touch the calf, suggesting a balm applied only to the wrap. The rib dinner showed evidence of beeswax and a luxury item called Pistacia resin. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Katherine A. Clark, Salima Ikram and Richard P. Evershed, Organic chemistry of balms used in the preparation of pharaonic meat mummies]

The scientists say their findings show that ancient Egyptians paid as much exquisite attention to embalming and preserving meat as they did to humans and pet animals. Because one should always pack a meal for a long journey.

--Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Email this Article