Monday, March 20, 2023

Something About Used Ushabtis

Goo goo dolls.

Even though the title of the second Johnny Dixon book, The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt (1983), features an honest-to-goodness mummy, it's The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983) with authentic Egyptian grave goods. The titular blue figurine is an ushabti, and after reading this Science Alert article, I can't help but wonder what exciting things it saw during its long life.

Michelle Starr's Feb. 1 article (Ancient Goo Spills The Secrets of How The Egyptians Mummified Their Dead) starts rather innocently:
An analysis of the residue on ceramics found in an ancient embalming workshop has given us new insights into how ancient Egyptians mummified their dead. Even more astonishingly, a team of scientists has been able to link different substances to the specific parts of the body on which they were used. This discovery is, in part, thanks to the residues themselves, which were studied using biomolecular techniques; but many of the vessels were intact, including not just the names of their contents, but instructions for their use.
The embalming workshop was in a burial complex in Saqqara, Egypt, discovered only in 2018, dating between 664–525 BCE. The recovered relics featured mummies, canopic jars containing their organs, and ushabti figurines to serve the dead in their afterlife.
Led by archaeologist Maxime Rageot of the University of Tübingen, the researchers conducted a thorough examination of 31 of these vessels, using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to determine the ingredients of the embalming materials therein.

The detailed results are fascinating, and in some cases, completely unexpected.

"The substance labeled by the ancient Egyptians as antiu has long been translated as myrrh or frankincense. But we have now been able to show that it is actually a mixture of widely differing ingredients," Rageot explains in the statement.

These ingredients were cedar oil, juniper or cypress oil, and animal fat, the team found, although the mixture may vary from place to place and time to time.

The team also compared instructions inscribed on some of the vessels to their contents to determine how each mixture was used. Instructions included "to put on his head", "bandage or embalm with it", and "to make his odor pleasant".

Eight different vessels had instructions regarding the treatment of the deceased's head; pistachio resin and castor oil were two ingredients that only appeared in these vessels, often in a mixture that contained other elements, such as elemi resin, plant oil, beeswax, and tree oils.
Johnny washed his hands because they were dirty from handling the book hiding the ushabti. Did he wash his hands after handling the ushabti? Who knows how dirty it was!  Ha!

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