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Scientists Analyze Composition of Ancient Egyptian Bones

Thursday, November 14, 2019

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Researchers from the Department of Energy/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced that they have worked with scholars from the University of Cairo to analyze samples of mummified bone and soil collected at sites in Egypt where human remains were found, in an effort to determine if chemicals in the bone reflected the person’s daily activities, or if the soil chemistry had changed the composition of the bones over time. The analysis was conducted with X-ray and infrared light-based techniques. The mummified bone samples, which range from 2,000 to 4,000 years old, came from the burial ground at Saqqara in northern Egypt, and Aswan, an ancient city located in southern Egypt. Mohamed Kasem of Cairo University said the researchers detected lead, aluminum, and other elements in the bones that they think reflect the toxicity of the ancient Egyptian environment. The aluminum is thought to have come from the potassium alum compound added to drinking water to reduce cloudiness, while the lead in the bones is likely to have come from the lead used to polish pottery. Kasem said the team of researchers is continuing to experiment with different high-tech techniques to sort out the sources of elements found in the ancient bones. To read about the diet of ancient Egyptians living on the Giza Plateau over 4,000 years ago, go to "Let Them Eat Soup."

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