Evidence for Embalming in Roman Greece

August 26, 2008

Using electron microscopy and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, researchers found evidence of embalming in Roman Greek times.

Using electron microscopy and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, researchers found evidence of embalming in Roman Greek times. Researchers from the Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich (Switzerland) used physico-chemical and histological methods to show that various resins, oils, and spices were used during the embalming of a female in Northern Greece around 300 AD.

This is the first ever multidisciplinary-based indication for artificial mummification in Greece at 300 AD. The remains of this 55-year-old female show the preservation of various soft tissues, hair, and part of a gold-embroidered silk cloth. In addition to macroscopic and anthropological analyses, electron microscopy and GC-MS examinations were performed. These showed the presence of various embalming substances including myrrh, fats, and resins. The findings significantly increase knowledge about the use of tissue-preserving, antibacterial, and antioxidative substances in the mortuary practices of Roman Greece.

Christina Papageorgopoulou, study initiator and assistant at the Institute of Anatomy, University of Zurich, explains: "Never before have such embalming substances been shown for this time period in Greece. Up to now, only written historic sources suggested that selected people were embalmed in Roman Greece." This research points toward possible future collaborations of social and natural scientists.