The experts utilised modern technology to shine a light on what daily life was like in ancient Egypt in a never before seen study. Using lasers, X-rays and infrared tools, scientists have been able to scrutinise and examine the bones of mummies to better understand our ancestors.
The bones, thought to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old, have been analysed using Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Labs in California.
The tests work by subjecting the bones to various wavelengths of bright light that explore the chemistry, structure and properties of the samples.
Mohamed Kasem, from Cairo University who has worked on the study summarised neatly that: “The bones are acting like an archive.”
The researchers made “very thin slices” of femur bones, which they think will point towards who people lived, what they ate, how good or bad their health was, and general data on their daily lives.
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Thin layers of femur were taken from the samples
The research has already revealed a number of details about the ancient Egyptians from the time period.
Dr Kasem, however, explained that more work is needed to map a fully detailed picture.
Using a chemical-analysis technique, the team pumped away at the samples with short laser blasts – which freed up a small volume of bone material.
From this, the researchers then used light to determine what elements were present in the samples.
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Visitors from Cairo were involved in the project that was carried out in California
Dr Kasem said: “We have found lead, aluminium, and other elements that give us an indication of the environment and the toxicity of that time.
“That information is stored right in the bones.”
Some of the ongoing discoveries have pointed towards the ancient societies use of materials we use today, but for different purposes.
For example, the ancient Egyptians didn’t use aluminium in metal-working; instead, researchers found they used potassium alum, a chemical compound containing aluminium sued to reduce cloudiness in drinking water.
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Samples were blasted with lasers
Researchers said the bone samples came from around 2,000 to 4,000 years ago
Separately, the scientists have used X-rays to study how the collagen in the bones of the mummies compare to that of modern day humans.
X-rays are effective for studying collagen in bones as when it is shined through, they reveal how well or badly the collagen is preserved, as well as its healthiness.
However, due to the literal ancient nature of the mummies, collagen assemblies aren’t general as well ordered in bones as they are in modern humans.
The mummified samples were brought over from Egypt by scientists from Cairo University.
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They hail from four different dynasties in Egypt: the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate, Late Period and Greco-Roman period.
Soils from the burial sites have also been examined to further scientists understanding of what life might have been like.
Of this, Dr Kasem said: “So many factors affect the preservation. One of them is how long the bone has been buried in soil and also the state of the bone and the different types of soil.”
Also proving to be a potential hindrance on the research is the embalming technique which mummies were preserved by.
The bodies could well have been embalmed by different poplin different ways.
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Dr Kasem added: “There are different qualities in the materials, like the cloth and the resins they used to embalm.”
The soil samples do offer some hope, however, with examinations of their condition allowing scientists to determine whether chemical concentrations in the bone samples being related to the individuals’ heath diet and daily lives, or whether the chemicals were in fact entrenched in the soil and changed the bones’ chemistry over time.
The samples were recovered from Saqqara, the site of an ancient burial site, and Aswan, the site of an ancient city of the bank of the Nile, once known as Swennett.