From ABC News in Science, 14 August 2014:
Prehistoric Egyptians practised mummification well before the time of the Pharaohs, suggests an analysis of resin-soaked linen.
A team of Australian and British researchers investigated samples of wrappings taken from bodies found in the earliest known ancient Egyptian cemeteries — 4500 BC to 3350 BC — in the Badari region of Upper Egypt.
They found the wrappings were soaked in a mix of pine resin, an aromatic plant extract, wax, and a plant gum or sugar, combined into a base of plant oil or animal fat.
The discovery pushes back the earliest known scientific evidence of Egyptian mummification by some 1500 years, the researchers report in paper published today in PLoS ONE.
The prehistoric embalming practices represent the beginning of experimentation that would evolve into the mummification techniques used in the Pharaonic period, conclude the researchers.
Pharaohs ruled Egypt from around 2900 BC to 332 BC.
Prior to this study, the earliest known examples of Egyptian mummification practices came from the late Old Kingdom period (around 2200 BC), but mummification did not become widespread until the Middle Kingdom period (around 2000 – 1600 BC)
The complex recipe used to impregnate the prehistoric linen funerary wrappings is similar to those used at the zenith of Pharaonic mummification, say the researchers. Read more.