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The after-death cosmetic requirements of pharaohs. 

For special occasions, as well as for embalming the wealthy of the world, such as pharaohs and courtiers, the Ancient Egyptians used a special balsam with cosmetic properties. As smells played a huge part in the daily lives of the Egyptians, its seemed obvious that this would be the same in the afterlife, and this need was carefully catered for. In all of the more wealthy tombs there are extensive cosmetic supplies and the tools needed to carry out these cosmetic treatments. 

Lets look at the ingredients for the Egyptian perfume known as 'Kyphi', which can also be used for embalming. 'Kyphi' is made form the powdered leaves of sweet flag (Acorus calamus), Nardostachys jatamansi, a known fragrant plant, the leaves of Laurus nobilis, cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), mint (Mentha piperita), and Convolvulus scammomia

The powdered leaves were then carefully mixed and juniper berry (that had been previously macerated in wine) was added, together with Accacia, earth almonds (Cyperus esculentus), and henna (a known dye obtained from the henna bush, Lawsonia inermis). 

As one can see it was a balsam of very complex composition, the preparation of which required extensive knowledge of the local flora, and the mastery of techniques that would today fall into the genre of apothecary. 

This was the basis for the perfume, which was of a cream consistency, and also for the balsam. To make the balsam itself, one had to add  honey, turpentine and the fragrant resin of  the mirrha tree (Commiphora abyssinica). The end result is sweet, sticky and resinous, it more resembles liqueur to which turpentine has been added, rather than what we know as perfume today. It has remarkable  preserving properties, and above all it prevents rot and decay due to its antibiotic activity. An embalmed body that has been kept in low humidity, can be conserved so well that after a few thousand years it is still possible to analyse its nucleic acids, to do DNA fingerprinting, and to decipher kinship and fatherhood. And of course, a well preserved mummy also gives away its medical secrets. One can investigate diseases, determine parasites, abnormalities and the like. It's strange that we haven't been able to bring a pharaoh back to life yet. But who knows…

The body of the young pharaoh Tutankhamen was especially well preserved. Enclosed in four coffins (one of which was made of pure gold weighing 100 kg), it has remained untouched. Japanese scientists wanted to carry out DNA analysis to determine the family relations of the pharaohs. When the Egyptian government agreed in 2000 to allow them to take samples, the Japanese funded the laboratory for the studies. However, after a few weeks, all was called off without giving a reason. It was said that after the tests, one would have to rewrite all of the history books, or even worse, it could come out that Moses was somehow involved in the genealogy of Pharaohs. 

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(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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July  2003

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