The Lady of Pavia: microbiological essays and qualitative GC/MS characterization of embalming materials

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Marco Nicola
Luca Maraviglia
Riccardo Ariotti
Francesco Chiara
Sabina Malgora


mummification, embalming materials, microbiological essays, GC/MS, terpenoids


The application of molecular characterization techniques to an Egyptian mummy preserved in the Archaeological Museum of the University of Pavia, a as part of a wide research project conducted by the Mummy Project Research, provided a description of the embalming technique adopted. The number of analytical methods applied has also made it possible to identify the presence of some molecules attributable to plants not included among those commonly reported in similar cases. Before the study, a microbiological screening of ten zones on the surface of the mummy revealed the effective antiseptic properties of the substances present. The chemical composition of the balms was then investigated using quadrupole Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS), testing the effects of different extraction solvents and the use of a derivatizing agent, which allowed to improve the detection of some compounds. Overall, the compounds identified are linked to an embalming technique that involves the use of bitumen, oils and resins as common both in the Late and in the Ptolemaic Periods. Some analytical methods applied have also made it possible to detect traces of compounds possibly attributable to some genera of plants used by the Egyptians and which grow on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa or in southern tropical regions. The work, still ongoing, highlights the importance of using different analytical methods to detect even minor amounts of compounds difficult to identify. This approach aims at the improvement of the understanding of medical and embalming techniques used in ancient Egypt.

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