An Essay on Egyptian Mummies:
The next fact worthy of notice, is the appearance of minute saline crystals, found in great abundance in almost every part of the external, but more particularly of the internal surface of the body. These, at first, had escaped notice ; but upon the various portions of the dissected mummy being exposed to the open air, in one of the rooms on the ground floor in my house for some weeks, where a fire was kept, the appearance of the saline particles became strikingly visible. This saline efflorescence I gently swept off the surface with a new brush, and subjected to various analytical experiments, from which it results, that it consists of nitrate of potash, carbonate, sulphate, and muriate of soda, and traces of lime. Now, as as none of these salts have ever been observed to form spontaneously, either within or upon the surface of preserved human bodies, particularly where the contact of external air has been so studiously excluded as in the present case, it follows, that in the preparation of mummies, the embalmers must have had recourse to the immersion of the body into a saline solution of a mixed kind. HeroDotus, indeed, states that the body was covered with natron for the space of seventy days ; but it is more probable, that the water of the celebrated natron lakes, which lay so conveniently at hand, rendered more active by previous evaporation, was used for the purpose. The presence of lime may be accounted for by supposing, that in a preliminary operation, the cuticle, which, as I before stated, could not be detected in any part of the body, except the head and the extremity of the toes, and has been found invariably wanting in all other mummies, was removed by means of that alkaline substance. This circumstance again goes far to show that the Egyptian embalmers were acquainted with an important physiological truth, namely, that in order to promote the absorption of liquid substances, particularly of the tanning liquor and saline solution, applied to the external surface of the body, the cuticle must first be removed.
A fourth fact, deserving of our attention, is the presence of a resino-bituminous substance between some of the folds of the remaining portions of the peritoneal membrane. On collecting this substance, and instituting some experiments upon it, I ascertained that the bitumen was mixed with a greater proportion of wax, so as to have rendered the mixture perfectly plastic. To have penetrated thus far, and to have lodged between closely adhering membraneous folds, this mixture must either have been injected quite warm into the cavity of the abdomen, or the body itself must have been plunged into a vessel containing a liquefied mixture of wax and bitumen, and there kept for some hours or days, over a gentle fire. The latter operation, not noticed by the older historians, has indeed been surmised by some of the modern writers on the subject; but in none of them have I been able to find a corroborating proof of the correctness of such a surmise. The examination of my mummy has afforded me that proof, in the shape of a fifth fact, namely, the thoroughly impregnated state of the bones, membranes, and muscles, in every part of the body, by the same waxy and bituminous substance. The inspection of the bones of the pelvis, of those of the thighs, and of the vertebrae, as well as of some of the muscles, and membranes, to be submitted to the Society, will shew this abundantly. Now such a condition of the parts could not have been produced, but by maceration or immersion, for a length of time, of the whole body, into a liquefied mixture of those two ingredients ; accordingly we must conclude that such a process was actually followed by the embalmers ; unless we feel disposed to believe that they injected the body through the blood-vessels ; an operation of which there is not the most distant evidence in the mummy before us.
|Mummy Ushabei of Pameraba
The adoption of my view on this point, is farther authorized by the soft and pliant condition of the capsular membranes, of the cellular texture, and above all, of the two coverings of the spinal marrow, than which nothing can be more beautiful or striking ; whether we admire their perfect preservation, or reflect on the number of centuries through which these delicate tissues have traveled. I have already noticed to the Society the flexibility of the joints, a circumstance which is entirely due to the process here explained ; and now I have to add that this process is made out beyond contradiction, by my having been able to separate the wax by means of combustion and ebullition, from the soft parts, particularly the muscles, the singularly distinct fibres of which, beautifully arranged and displayed, the Society will not omit remarking.
Hapi The God of the Nile and the Apis Bull
In examining the dissected parts of the mummy, which I have carefully displayed for public inspection after the meeting, the Members will not fail being struck with the difference that exists between the two nates detached from the body. The one has been left in the state in which it was handed down to us by the Egyptian embalmers, dark, tanned, contracted, and impregnated with the mummifying ingredients ; the other, on the contrary, has been deprived, in toto, by my process, of those ingredients, (the principal of which is bees wax, as will be seen from the quantity which I collected); so as to appear like the same part in a recent subject, soft, elastic, of a yellowish white, with the cutaneous pores very distinct, and with its muscles, adipose substance, and blood vessels perfectly striking.
The sixth, and last fact to be noticed, is the presence of several moderately sized lumps of an earthy matter, mixed with pieces of resin, found loose in the cavity of the abdomen. That these were thrown into that cavity for the double purpose of filling up the space left in it by the abstraction of some of the viscera, and of adding, at the same time, to the antiseptic power of the process employed in embalming, are conjectures that will perhaps be readily admitted. The experiments made to ascertain the nature of the earthy substance in question, tend to prove the latter part of these conjectural propositions. It was found to consist of the same saline compounds, noticed on the surface of the mummy, mixed with argillaceous earth. Now, if the embalmers used the water from the natron lakes, as I have laid down good grounds for believing, nothing is more probable, than that they also made use of the earthy sediment of that water which contains the salt in question, and which could be procured in abundance at the margin of those lakes, where it has been observed by the naturalists who accompanied the French expedition into Egypt.
As to the nature of the resin and bitumen used as ingredients in the embalming process, it is a question of comparatively little interest. Nor does it matter much, whether aromatic vegetable substances were employed or not. In the mummy before us,-two or three small pieces of myrrh in a loose state were found, and evidence is not wanting of both resin and bitumen, though not in their purest form, having been had recourse to. But their presence seems by no means necessary for the completion of that admirable method of embalming, devised and followed by the ancient Egyptians, which my inquiries have been directed to ascertain, and which may be summed up in a few words by saying: that it consisted in impregnating the body with bees wax.The various circumstances detailed in this essay furnish us with sufficient reasons for believing, that in the most perfect, and, I would call them, the primitive specimens of the art of embalming, the progressive stages of the Egyptian method must have been as follows:
|Ra and Herus (Horus)
A. Immediately after death the body was committed to the care of the embalmers, when, in the majority of cases, the viscera of the abdomen, either wholly, or partially, were forthwith removed; in some cases through an incision on the one side of the abdomen, as stated by Herodotus, and as proved by some of the mummies examined ; and in others through the anus, in which latter case, the extremity of the rectum was previously disengaged from its attachments all round by the knife, and the intestines imperfectly extracted. The cavity of the thorax in the most perfect specimens was not disturbed.
|Maahes and Seker
B. The head was emptied, in all instances, of its contents, either through the nostrils, by breaking through the superior nasal bones, as in the instance under our consideration, as well as in that of the head from Tripoli, already mentioned, or through one of the orbits, the eyes being previously taken out, and artificial ones substituted in their place, after the operation, as in the instances of the mummies examined by Sir E. Home and Mr. Brodie. The cavity of the cranium was repeatedly washed out by injections with some fluid, which had the power of not only bringing away every vestige of the substance of the brain, but even of the enveloping membranes of it. Yet the liquid could not have been of a corrosive nature, else the tentorium, or that membranous floor which supports the brain must have disappeared with the meninges; whereas it is still in existence, and does not appear to have been in the least injured. A small quantity of hot liquid rosin was then injected into the cranium.
D. The operation of removing the cuticle being accomplished, the body was immersed into a capacious vessel, containing a liquefied mixture of wax and resin, the former predominating ; and some sort of bituminous substance being added, not however essential to the process. In this situation the body was suffered to remain a certain number of days over a gentle fire, with the avowed intention of allowing the liquefied mixture to penetrate the innermost and minutest structure; nor can there exist any doubt, but that on this part of the embalming process depended not only its great preservative power, but also its various degrees of perfection. Thus, when the process was properly managed and watched, mummies, such as the one under consideration, would be produced; whereas when neglected or slovenly conducted, the mummy resulting from it, would present those appearances of dryness, blackness, and brittleness, together with the carbonification of the muscles and intimate adherence of the integuments to the bones, which have been noticed by Dr. Hadley, Professor Gmelin, Blumenbach, Hunter, Dr. Baillie, Mr. Brodie, Jomard and others, when they examined imperfect or inferior mummies. The fraudulent subtraction of the allotted quantity of wax required for the principal and important part of the embalming process we are now considering, or the neglecting to regulate the fire in using the wax and bitumen, would necessarily give rise to the latter results, which the covering bandages were sure to hide from the eye of the surviving relatives to whom the body was to be returned. It is also fair to presume, that inability or unwillingness on the part of friends and relatives to pay for the ingredients or for the labor necessary to carry on the operations just described, have, on many occasions, been the cause of mummies being prepared in that imperfect manner which has been noticed in so many instances.
E. When the body was taken out of the warm liquid mixture, every part of it must have been in a very soft and supple condition, wholly unsusceptible of putrefaction. The next steps therefore to be taken, with a view to convert it1 into a perfect mummy, must have been those, which, had they been taken before that part of the process that has been just described, would have exposed the body to inevitable putrefaction, in a climate like that of Egypt. I allude to the tanning of the integuments, and the exposing of their surface to the additional influence of those salts, the presence of which, as well as that of tannin, I have most clearly demonstrated.
Whether an infusion of the vegetable astringent employed for tanning the integuments was had recourse to in the first instance, and the immersion of the body into the concentrated water of the natron lakes followed, or whether the tanning liquid was itself made by infusing the vegetable astringents themselves in the water of the natron lakes, and the body then immersed into it, are questions, which it is neither possible, nor important to decide; the body was unquestionably submitted to the operation of both those means, but in what order, it is difficult to ascertain ; and when the embalmers judged by the condition of the integuments, that they were sufficiently impregnated with the active principles employed, the body was allowed to dry for a few hours, and then the bandages previously prepared with a solution of tannin also, as proved by my experiments, were applied to the different parts, beginning with each separate limb.
While the operation of bandaging took place, the mummy must have been in a very supple state, else the numerous deep longitudinal wrinkles observed in all those parts where the integuments are generally looser, as in the upper part of the thighs and arms, as well as over the abdomen, and at the breasts, could not have existed. These wrinkles, so well marked in Plate XIX. must have been produced by the bandages at the time of their application.
|Mummy of Artemidorus
It appears also, that with a view of rendering the bandages more supple in particular places, where such a condition was required, and of obviating the inconvenience of slackness in some of the turns, they were daubed over in a few places with two different substances, the one consisting of wax and resin, the other of resin alone, both applied warm ; so that, while the first served to give pliancy to some of the linen employed, the second caused the slack and loose edges of the bandages to adhere together, by which process the whole was rendered compact and firm, without producing hardness.
The lumps of myrrh, resin, and bituminous earth, noticed in the abdomen, were pushed up through the enlarged aperture of the anus, immediately before the application of the ; bandages, for the purposes already detailed.
|Sesheta - Ta-urt - Thoueris
The preceding explanatory description of what appears, from the unquestionable facts collected in the course of my inquiry, to have been the best, and, in my opinion, the primitive mode of preparing mummies by the ancient Egyptians, differs from that found in Herodotus, as well as from those accounts which we read in other writers who came after him. It does not however appear that the eminent historian just mentioned had ever been present at the embalming of a mummy, or that he ever had an opportunity of examining one of them. He must, therefore, like many other travelers have noted down what he had collected from hearsay, in which, amidst much that was surmised, there was something approaching to the truth. It is in evidence that the art was kept a profound mystery among those who professed it, so that the different modes of embalming described with such orderly minuteness of details by Herodotus, could only have been conjectural.
|Auset (Isis) and Nebe-Het (Nepheys)
It is a curious fact, that, with the exception of the lateral incision, and immersion into a saline solution mentioned by that historian, we find no confirmatory evidence of the other steps of the supposed processes of embalming detailed by him in any of the various mummies that have hitherto been examined. And in the one now submitted to the inspection of the Society, by far the most perfect that has yet been publicly described, we have none of the characteristic features of the three several modes of embalming which we are told were followed by the ancient Egyptians; while, on the other hand, some of the lesser features of each process are strikingly apparent. We have, in fact, the presence of that which Herodotus asserted was invariably removed in the better prepared mummies, and some of those parts are absent, on the other hand, which he stated never to have been touched in the inferior class of those singular preparations. These facts will be duly valued by the scholar, and the commentators of that historian ; and the explanation now given of the real mode of mummifying, will enable the lexicographer to advance with confidence, that the name mummy was given to such preparations from the circumstance of wax (mum in the Cophtic language), being the really preservative ingredient employed in their preparation.
I have had occasion in the course of this paper to observe, that as by carefully taking into consideration the various facts which presented themselves during the examination of our mummy, it was natural to suppose, that the mode in which it had been prepared would be discovered; so would that discovery be confirmed if, by acting on those facts, something resembling a mummy could be produced ; and in the specimens which will be submitted to the members after the meeting, the different steps will be seen, by which I was led to what may be considered as an imitation of the Egyptian mummies.*
purposely omit speaking of the various modes of embalming adopted by different nations, or of those which may have prevailed at different epochs in Egypt; although in the course of my investigation I collected ample materials for entering into such a subject. The art of embalming, with a view to the preservation of the human body, for an indefinite series of years, as strictly illustrated by the mummies of ancient Egypt, does not appear to have been practised with success by any other nation. We find no remains of such high antiquity in any other part of the world; and the mummies of Mexico, those of the Atlantic islanders, the dried bodies found in the catacombs of some of the states bordering on the Mediterranean, are but of yesterday, compared to the age of the mummy which I have had the honor of bringing under the notice of the Society. Indeed the art soon began to decline among the Egyptians themselves, and the mummies found in the hypogei which bear evidence of having been more recently erected, as well as those of the plain of Saqquarah, are, in every respect, inferior to the primitive mummies. Whether this arose from the growing ignorance of the real process, the directions respecting which could only have been handed down traditionally; or from carelessness in the operation; or from indifference on the part of the people toward such an object; or from all these causes united, it is not easy now to determine. Certain it is, that the genuine process of embalming, among the Egyptians under the dynasty of the Pharaohs described in this paper, appears to have been progressively disregarded, and forgotten among them, until at last it was lost altogether. Nor does it appear ever to have been known by other nations.
|Mummy Ptah-Seker-Ausar -
In order to appreciate properly the durability of the bodies prepared by the Egyptian process, it is essential to observe, that the mummy I have described with so much minuteness, after having resisted putrefaction for above three thousand years, covered by bandages, enclosed in a thick wooden case, and placed in recesses, far from the external influence of atmospheric vicissitudes, has since withstood the inclemency and variations of an English climate, without any of those protecting circumstances ; nay, exposed purposely, but ineffectually, for four years, to the various causes that are known to favour putrefaction.** A singular contrast this, with what has since happened to one of the nates alluded to in a previous note. Being divested of the protecting and embalming ingredient, by the process I there alluded to, this part has partially run into putrefaction, and emits the peculiar smell of animal substances, placed under similar circumstances. Nay, in the case of one of the large muscles of the thigh, and a large portion of the integument, which I similarly deprived of their protecting ingredients, such has been the rapidity with which putrefaction has followed, that although well covered, the vessels containing those parts emitted the most insufferable smell, and the parts themselves were found infested with myriads of large maggots.
|The entrance to the tombs at Beni-Hasan
The deep feelings of interest that have of late been excited respecting the Egyptians, have induced me to extend my present inquiry to a greater length, than I should have done under less inviting circumstances. It was impossible not to feel extremely interested in the subject; and when I beheld before me the heart of an Egyptian female, whom imagination, aided by historical records, may fancy to have been contemporary with the great Sesostris, I could not help experiencing a degree of enthusiasm, a portion of which, me- thought, I could impart to others.
|The Colossi set up in honor of Amenophis III at Thebes
I recollect with pleasure the sensation which the demonstration of the various parts of this mummy, at the time it was first opened, excited amongst upwards of an hundred scientific and literary characters, who in the course of six weeks honored me with their presence at my house to witness the dissection, and by whom I was encouraged to follow up the investigation, and to communicate the result to the public. It is in obedience to their suggestion, and more especially to the recommendation of the President of the Royal Society, that I have taken a comprehensive view of the whole subject, instead of limiting myself to the dry description of a solitary specimen.
Originally the Egyptians did not mummify their dead at all. In early Egyptian times, the dead were simply buried in reed caskets in the sand. The searing hot sand caused the remains to dry quickly preventing decomposition. But when they began constructing tombs, and wood caskets for the dead, the sand could not get to the bodies. The bodies then started decomposing, so the Egyptians developed an elaborate mummification process.
The first step in the mummification process, was the embalming of the body. The dead body was embalmed with several preserving fluids. Then the major organs were removed, with the exception of the heart. The organs were placed in for Canopic jars. One held the intestines, another the stomach, another the lungs, and the last one held the liver. Surprisingly, the Egyptians did not keep the brain at all. The heart was the most important organ of all, and was said to house the person's Ba or soul. It was left in.
After the organs were removed, the body was stuffed with cotton and linen, and sewed back up. Next the eyes were removed, and replaced with either cotton, or fake eyeballs. After the body was finished, it was wrapped with strips of linen that had been soaked in embalming fluid. Finally it was covered with linen cloth, and bound carefully.
The Mummified body was then placed in its coffin, along with several amulets to ward off bad spirits, and grave robbers. In death the Egyptian still needed his body, so it was vitally important that the body was well preserved, so the Egyptian didn't have any problem in the afterlife. -- Written by: Michael D. Peach.
Book a primary source exhibit and a professional speaker for your next event by contacting Historic.us today. Our Clients include many Fortune 500 companies, associations, non-profits, colleges, universities, national conventions, pr and advertising agencies. As the leading exhibitor of primary sources, many of our clients have benefited from our historic displays that are designed to entertain and educate your target audience. Contact us to learn how you can join our "roster" of satisfied clientele today!
A Non-profit Corporation
Primary Source Exhibits
2000 Louisiana Avenue | Venue 15696
New Orleans, Louisiana, 70115
727-771-1776 | Exhibit Inquiries
202-239-1774 | Office
Dr. Naomi and Stanley Yavneh Klos, Principals