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Researchers obtain molecular information from Egyptian mummy using innovative non-invasive sampling method


The scientists of the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology of the University of Turin, leading an international team, were able to obtain molecular information from an ancient Egyptian mummy without compromising the integrity of the specimen. In the study an innovative methodology based on the contact between the skin of the mummy and a membrane that extracts the proteins present on the surface in a non-invasive way, making them available for analysis: this membrane is made of ethylene vinyl acetate, "EVA", used with a chromatographic medium.

Researchers obtain molecular information from Egyptian mummy using innovative non-invasive sampling method
Thanks to cutting-edge technology hitherto used only for the study of manuscripts, textiles and paintings,
researchers have succeeded in sequencing the proteins of the mummified skin of the body of a young
woman who lived more than 4000 years ago [Credit: Universita degli Studi di Torino]



Thanks to this technology, developed by Politecnico di Milano and Spectrophon Ltd and so far used only for the study of manuscripts, textiles and paintings dating back a few hundred years at most, the team was able to sequence the proteins of mummified skin and characterize the microbiome present on the surface of the body of a young woman who lived in Gebelein (Upper Egypt) during the Ancient Kingdom, over 4000 years ago. The mummy, found in the 1920s during the excavations of the Italian Archaeological Mission (M.A.I.), is kept at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the University of Turin (MAET). The study of the microbiome has allowed the discovery of potential microorganisms of degradation, which is important to plan the future monitoring of the conservation status of the mummy.

The study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, also reveals new details about the mummification process to which the body has been subjected. Thanks to the collaboration with the University of Pisa it has been possible to reveal the presence of a pine resin on the skin and on the tissues that cover the body, including an extremely rare pleated tunic. The data is extremely interesting because the information we have today about embalming procedures during the first dynasties of the Old Kingdom is rather sporadic. The results of this study fill some of these gaps by providing unpublished data on the raw materials used in the funerary rituals reserved for a young woman, very likely belonging to a medium-high rank of the community, who lived in one of the most important provinces of Upper Egypt.



The UniTo team, in addition to the head of the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, also includes staff from the Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences and the Open Access lab of Mass Spectrometry.

Prof. Beatrice Demarchi of the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology of the University of Turin, the first author of the study, points out: "The collaboration between the different departments of the United Kingdom with the Universities of Pisa and Cambridge, the Polytechnic of Milan and the Superintendence of Fine Arts Archaeology and Landscape for the Metropolitan City of Turin, will enable the same technique to be used to study the entire collection of mummies of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the University of Turin. This will enable us to obtain valuable information on lifestyle, including the state of health or the presence of pathologies, and on the evolution of embalming practices from predynastic times to the Ptolemaic age".

Source: Universita degli Studi di Torino [trsl. TANN, June 12, 2020]

TANN

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