"Modern science has finally found the secret of why some mummies can last for thousands of years," Ulrich Weser of the University of Tübingen told Reuters Wednesday. Chemists from the University of Tübingen and the Munich-based Doerner-Institut replicated an ancient treatment of cedar wood and found it contained a preservative chemical called guaiacol.
The team extracted the cedar oil using a method mentioned in a work by Pliny the Elder, a Roman encyclopedist who wrote of an embalming ointment called “cedrium.” Although there are no contemporary descriptions of how the tar was made, modern Egyptologists had overlooked Pliny’s account, as he was writing centuries later.
Weser said that, despite ancient mentions of “cedar-juice,” scholars believed juniper to be the source because of similar Greek names and some mummies being found clutching juniper berries. But, tests of juniper extracts found they did not contain the guaiacol preservatives.