Evershed RP; Dudd SN; Copley MS; Berstan R; Stott AW; Mottram H; Buckley SA; Crossman Z Chemistry of archaeological animal fats ACCOUNTS OF CHEMICAL RESEARCH 2002, Vol 35, Iss 8, pp 660-668
Buckley SA; Evershed RP Organic chemistry of embalming agents in Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman mummies NATURE 2001, Vol 413, Iss 6858, pp 837-841
Buckley SA; Stott AW; Evershed RP Studies of organic residues from ancient Egyptian mummies using high temperature gas chromatography mass spectrometry and sequential thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry and pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry ANALYST 1999, Vol 124, Iss 4, pp 443-452
My interests concern the use of chemical methods to understand the process of mummification, and relate this to the materials employed for both practical considerations and symbolic factors being driven by religious and cultural ‘needs’. The ancient Egyptians believed the soul could not survive in the afterlife if it didn't recognize its body. Through chemical analysis, it has been possible to gain insights into how the Egyptian embalmers worked. They used mixtures of plant oils and resins with anti-microbial properties, such as conifer, Pistacia and balsamic tree resins. These substances killed bacteria that would have decomposed the bodies. They also used materials conveying a powerful symbolic significance in order to associate themselves with particular deities or political affiliations (e.g. sheep/goat fat with the Theban god Amun).
The overall findings to date reveal the Egyptians had a surprising level of scientific sophistication. The so-called ‘art’ of the embalmers clearly improved (and sometimes regressed) over time – my current work on Egyptian burials has covered a time span of 4,500 years.
My current fellowship, entitled ‘Evidence for the systematic use of antimicrobial and insecticidal natural products in ancient Egyptian burial practices’ reflects this interest and the clear need for more work in this area.
I am also interested in how other cultures treatment of their deceased mirrors or differs from ancient Egyptian burial practices over time, and to this end I am currently studying mummies from 4 continents. The Near East and Arabia, with their close proximity to Egypt are of particular interest and form part of my current research.
Despite being primarily a lab-based scientist, I believe that experience in the field is vital if a good understanding of the archaeological context (and so the significance for the biomolecular archaeology) is to be obtained. To this end I have been an archaeological chemist for excavations in the Valley of the Kings since 1993 being involved in Tomb KV39 and more recently Tomb KV35. I have also been associated with excavations in Yemen and in the investigation of rare Roman mummies discovered on the outskirts of Rome.
More widely, I am interested in the use of analytical chemistry to study the use of plant and animal derived organic materials (primarily residues) in a range of archaeological contexts.