Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rhamnus nilotica

The smallest plant to be mummified during the Twelfth Dynasty was the Nile buckthorn, a minuscule shrub with fruits of up to 5mm in length. Due to their curative benefits, a thousand of the tiny berries accompanied Senusret II on his descent to the underworld to ensure that his Ka would be free of catarrh and dropsy throughout the journey.

The embalming process began with removal of the mesocarp partitions, funiculus, and superior ovary. (The ovule, believed to house the soul of the fruit, was left unmolested.) This was all accomplished with a hooked pick as wide as a hair. The priests swabbed these entrails with half a droplet of palm wine, then placed them in canopic jars the size of capers. The eviscerated berry was gently stuffed with a few grains of natron salt and left to dry for a period of several days. Once dehydrated, the fruit (now so diminished it was often difficult to see) was perfumed, coated in resin and then in gilt. After that came the doubtless excruciating task of wrapping it in linen strips of usually two threads in diameter. The finished mummies each found homes within a series of nested sarcophagi, the innermost of which are surely the smallest fruit coffins ever made. Mention of the Nile buckthorn berry is bound to come up during any debate over the presence of magnifying devices in the time of the Middle Kingdom.

From: Brammuel Thauzich, The Lighter Side of Egyptology. Stratford: Muttnamp & co., 1933: p. 127.