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Burial 71

hk43 b71

The first wrapped or padded body was found undisturbed in Burial 71 in 1997 (of course, on the last day!). This young woman (she wore her hair short leading to initial confusion that she was a man)had been covered with matting and buried with eight pots, one still with its lid in place. In one, placed behind her head beneath the matting, were round loaves of bread, which owe their excellent preservation to the fact that they contain very few actual grains, being composed mainly of chaff – showing that the practice of making false offerings for the dead has a very long history.

hk43 b71 bread

Beneath the matting, her body was covered in a linen shroud, but in addition, her neck and her hands were found wrapped and padded with linen. This can be seen around the jaw and the arms where clumps of cloth had been used to pad the body parts. Examination of this resin-soaked linen has revealed that this wrapping was carefully done. Only the finest linen was against the skin, while outer wrappings became progressively coarser.

hk43 B71 detail

Further examination of her remains has revealed what appears to be one of her internal organs also wrapped in resin-soaked linen before being returned to the chest cavity where it was recovered. This suggests that already at this time, evisceration, perhaps in order to retard putrefaction, was being practiced, but further research is required to substantiate this.


Burial 16

Burial 16 was another padded burial, although heavily plundered. It belonged to an older woman (c. 30+ years) whose long hair was extremely well preserved beneath the 10cm thick linen pads. Linen pads were found around the jaw and encasing the hands and lower arms. Preserveration was such that even her fingernails were still in place within the wrapping. Unlike the other burials, it also seems as if the entire head was padded given the large clumps of padding adhering to her hair.

hk43 b16 hand

hk43 b16 padded jaw

When this padding was removed we found that there was more artificial going on than just wrapping. First, examination of her tresses showed that some of that color wasn't hers. In fact, her graying locks had been dyed, as analysis has shown, with henna (Lawsonia inermis). But that was not all. Carefully knotted in to help fill out those graying and thinning locks were hair extensions, locks of her own hair, arranged to form what must have been a quite elaborate hair style, with a lot of lift in the center. It is unknown whether this was done in life or was a post mortem treatment, but clearly it was not something she could have done herself. This particular burial provides not only the earliest documented evidence for the use of hair dye in Egypt but also the earliest evidence for the use of false hair from Egypt, if not the entire ancient world, predating previous examples by a least 300 years. The product of many hours work, this extra care given to her appearance for the next world would suggest she was highly regarded in life. Perhaps the padding and wrapping of her body was another expression of this regard.

hk43 b16 hair2


Burial 85

Burial 85 belonged to a young woman (16-20 years) who we nick-named Paddy. She was discovered intact, still fully covered by a double layer of matting. Beneath the matting, her hands and lower arms had been padded with thick bundles of linen and then wrapped. Bundles of linen were also used to pad the area around the base of the skull, the neck and jaw. Yet the major part of the face, the eyes, nose, and mouth were not covered. Her burial contained no grave goods in the usual sense. Only a couple of rounded sherds and a flint flake were found in the crook of her knees.

hk43 b85 pads

hk43 b85 hand

Careful removal of the upper layer of matting and linen pads around the head resulted in the preservation of her entire head of hair, revealing a shoulder-length style of natural waves extending c.22cm from the crown of the head with a left side parting and asymmetrical fringe made up of S-shaped curls bordering the forehead. In addition to the excellent preservation of the cranial hair, the right eyebrow also survived.

Paddy hair 2

Examination of her bones showed that there was more to this young lady than just appearance. Her throat bore cut-marks indicating that her throat had been slit (but not decapitated) before the neck area was covered with linen pads. Explanations for this treatment still elude us. Cut marks were not found on any of the other wrapped bodies.

hk43 b85 cutmarks

At present it seems that the padding served to hold the head in place or magically protect the head and hands from later disturbance. The padded body parts, especially the hands and jaw, are associated with nourishment or the ability to eat, thus the padding may have been an attempt to preserve for eternity what was necessary for maintenance in the next life. Whether this type of treatment directly led to the development of latter mummies remains unclear, but it does seem that its primary purpose was not the artificial preservation of the body’s appearance, but rather its articulation. Nevertheless, these discoveries force us to reassess the possible reasons for the development of artificial mummification in the first place.


For more information about the wrapped and padded burials see: 

Nekhen News 9 (1997) Now in full color!

Nekhen News 10 (1998) Secrets of the Locks, and more

Nekhen News 11 (1999) Pondering Paddy

Nekhen News 13 (2001) Bound for Eternity


Jones, J., 2007. New perspectives on the development of mummification and funerary practices during the Pre- and Early Dynastic periods [in:] Goyon, J.-C. & Cardin, C. (eds.), Proceedings of the ninth international congress of Egyptologists. Grenoble 6–12 septembre 2004: Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 150. Leuven: 979–990.

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