The fascination with ancient records talking of mummification and embalming techniques still haunts scientists today. A new experiment conducted at the Zürich University shows exactly why.
Although ancient records have been around for a long time and taken in word-by-word, actual body embalming has never been attempted using modern technology and methodology to better understand the phenomenon.
Ancient Egyptians were usual practitioners of mummification, believing that through this process their loved ones would linger on the earthly realms for longer. And they were right. Thousands of years later, we still unearth the perfectly preserved remains of ancient Egyptians from their catacombs.
According to Christina Papageorgopoulou, physical anthropologist at the Democritus University of Thrace:
“The goal of this study is to apply evidence-based diagnostic criteria and state-of-the art methodology in order to improve knowledge on soft tissues preservation and postmortem alterations”.
The experiment was conducted on two legs coming from a woman’s body that has donated it for scientific purposes. The researchers did not plan to mummify the entire body and preferred instead to take it piece by piece.
One of the legs underwent the process of mummification through dry heat. The other leg was mummified in salty drying substance, natron.
While the first method is quite a classic, it seems the second one was perceived as a state-of-the-art technique in the New Kingdom period of Egypt’s history.
The first type of mummification was terminated after only seven days past. The researchers reported that there was no progress in the process.
Furthermore, perhaps because they lacked the skill set of the Egyptians or the conditions provided by the climate in Switzerland are not quite ideal. Low temperature and humidity are thought to be the main factors that led to the unsuccessful attempt.
On the other hand, mummification in natron was fully successful after 208 days. A long time compared to how much it took the ancient Egyptians, yet a successful experiment nonetheless.
It is worth noting that, according to the scientist, the natron removed water from human tissue to the extent that it efficiently prevented putrefaction. Further analysis showed that the tissue was alos clean of fungi or bacteria.
Tissue samples were harvested every two days and analyzed under the microscope or by effective X-ray imaging.
The experiment is a successful blend of modern technology and medical science combined with ancient methods largely not understood until today. The methods of mummification were left to us by the Greek Herodotus, who documented the techniques in detail.
The results of the experiment and research were published by the Anatomical Record journal.
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