Tag Archives: Mummification

THE LOST ART OF MAKING MUMMIES

A14The word “mummy” conjures images of ragged-wrapped, stretch-armed, walking dreads of the dead—frenzied figures from Hollywood’s hideous horror. Like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the hairy old Wolfman, mummies were classic fictional frights. But, in reality, mummies are tangible ghosts. They’re bodies that stick aroundlong after death—and they’re still here, fascinating us with mystical gore.

Mummification is the process of stopping your body’s natural decomposition after death. Nature built a recycling system into all of us including your cat, your dog, crocodile, cobra, monkey, macaw, and your pet parrot—all have been made into mummies.

A10Where did this preservation process originate? How does it work? Is mummification still done today?

Or is the art of making everlasting mummies lost forever?

The English word “mummy” originated from the Latin term “mumia and the Arabic term “mumiya which meant a preserved corpse. The Old English Dictionary defined mummy as “A human or animal body embalmed (according to the ancient Egyptian or some analogous method) as a preparation for burial”.

Chamber’s Cyclopedia goes a step further. “A human or animal body desiccated by exposure to sun or air. Also applied to the frozen carcass of a human or animal embedded in prehistoric ice or snow”.

Scientifically, a mummy is simply a being who’s soft tissue has been long preserved after death. Normally when a person dies, the process of decomposition sets in immediately and is divided into two actions.

A18The first is autolysis which is the body’s enzymes beginning to digest themselves. This is followed by putrefaction which is the bacterial breakdown of organic matter.

The rate and manner of decomposition is dependent on many factors. Mainly it’s the surrounding environment’s elements of heat or cold, humidity, exposure to air, and the physical makeup of the body itself. Large, fat corpses in a hot humid location will rot much faster than a small, skinny one in a cool dry setting.

Mummies are classified into two groups.

A19One is termed anthropogenic which means it’s intentionally preserved or manmade. The other is termed spontaneous. These mummies naturally occur due to death taking place in a suitable environment like a hot dry desert, a cold icy glacier, or the oxygen depleted, anaerobic depths of a peat bog.

The anthropogenic mummification process has been around 10,000 years and evolved through centuries of experimentation. Plus a lot of trial and error.

A21The earliest human mummies are found in South America and are more like hybrid corpse-statues than the fully preserved, full sized cadavers of the Egyptians. The Chinchorros of Chile disarticulated the bodies, sun-dried the sections, then sewed them together with sinew, sticks, and straw. It seems they were kept in their houses for the sake of the family rather than the deceased.

Man-made mummies have been found on every continent of human habitation. They’re common to China, Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and North America, but mostly attributed to suitable sub-climates, including the islands of Papua New Guinea where they practiced shrinking heads.

The most famous mummies were made by ancient Egyptians.

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Anthropogenic preservation has been recorded in Egypt since 3500 BC as their culture’s belief in the afterlife evolved. The early residents of the Upper Nile buried their dead in the hot, dry sand and made the remarkable observation that this preserved bodies in a permanent state.

This led to their profound conclusion that since the body remained intact, therefore the soul must remain intact after death as well.

A23Ancient Egyptians saw a connection between the preservation of body and wellness of the soul in the afterlife. They believed if a body was well-prepared for eternity then so would the soul. Progressively, this led to advanced preservation techniques. Fortunately, it was clearly recorded.

Two sources exist that describe the mummification process Egyptians perfected. One surviving papyri translated as The Ritual Of The Embalming.  It describes more of the ceremonial practices than the practical. Herodotus’ Histories, however, left us with an intricate manual of exactly how human mummification was done at the height of the craft—the New Kingdom’s 18th through 20th dynasties in the period of 1570 to 1075 BC when the world’s outstanding mummies were made.

The instructions go like this:

Step One: Organ Removal

A24First, make a small incision approximately 4 inches long on the left side of the abdomen. Then remove most of the organs through this small opening, cutting them away one by one. The exception is the heart. Leave the heart intact because it’s the seat of intelligence and needs a last judgement before the soul enters the next life.

The intestines, stomach, liver, and lungs are also regarded as an essential requirement for the body in the afterlife. So, after their removal, preserve each separately inside a canopic jar. Each jar is protected by its own god whose head is represented on the jar lid.

Brains used to be removed through the nose using a metal implement, however our best Egyptian mummies now have their brains left in place. As in life, the brain does not seem to have any use after death, so ignore it and leave the brain to dry in place.

Step Two: Sterilizing and Packing the Body

A25Wash out the empty body cavity with palm wine. It is alcohol and acts as a sterilizing agent. Next, mix the palm wine with pine resin. This is an antibacterial agent.

Again, following ancient methods, pack small linen bags containing crushed spices, myrrh and sawdust inside the body to maintain its form. Stitch the abdomen up and seal it with hot beeswax.

Step Three: The Protective Coating

Blend together specific quantities of plant oil, pine resin, spices, and beeswax. Brush this mixture over the entire surface of the body to create an even layer.  Leave this outer coating to set.

Step Four: The Natron Solution

A26Now treat the body with the Egyptian salt called ‘natron’. It’s made of four constituent parts; sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, and sodium sulphate. If Egyptian natron is not readily available, carefully measure each of these components to recreate the naturally occurring natron. Pour the blended salts into deionised water to create a solution of optimum concentration.

Also, place the intestines, stomach, liver, and lung in the same natron solution, within their individual containers.

Leave the body and organs in this solution for exactly 70 days to allow the necessary chemical changes to occur. As water is drawn out of the body through the process of osmosis, the natron salts diffuse into the body’s soft tissue and the carbonates combine with the fats, turning them into a stable form more resistant to the process of decay.

Step Five: Wrapping and Drying

A27Remove the body from the natron solution and dry it out for two weeks in a sealed unit, set to a specific combination of low humidity and warm temperature of the Egyptian summer environment.

Begin the long process of wrapping, using strips of linen cut to varying dimensions to fit different parts of the body. Seal each layer with melted pine resin and beeswax.

Remove the intestines, stomach, liver, and lungs from the natron solution. Dry, wrap, and place in their separate containers. Then place the wrapped body and organs back in the sealed unit and leave to dry for a further six weeks.

Finally, set the mummified body into a fitted sarcophagus, seal it with resin and beeswax, then set the sarcophagus in a tomb and leave it there for eternity.

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A29In modern time, entire industries grew from public fascination around mummies. Beyond Hollywood movies and museum displays, mummies were considered medicinal magic. Ground mummy powder was sold for intestinal ailments, infertility, and internal bleeding control. A whole side-show industry offered mummification services to gullible people wanting their bodies preserved forever. Their makeshift mummies were hastily rushed, leaving their conned corpses sealed in ornate tombs and rotting away, with customers none the wiser.

Mummification morphed into modern times. Famous folks like Vladimir Lenin were stuffed and put on display in the Kremlin. Popes were preserved. So were saints and some scientists like Gottfried Knoche who was the inventor of embalming fluid. Evan Peron was encased in wax. Her life-like appearance led to the technology of plastination where water and fat are replaced by polymers that retain microscopic tissue properties. They don’t stink and are great for Body World’s traveling displays.

China Mummified MonkLittle known to the western world is the ancient Buddhist monk practice of Sokushinbutsu. There are shadowy accounts of monks who were able to consciously mortify their flesh to death. It’s claimed Mahayana monks knew their time of death and prepared their bodies for preservation through a sparse diet of salt, nuts, seeds, roots, pine bark, and urushi tea. Their remains were set in the lotus position and sealed in a drying vat for three years…. their mummified bodies then adorned with gold… and put in a shrine on display.

Sounds way over the top?

Well, I found this article from a Chinese website. It was published this month and proves the art of mummy making is anything but lost.

China Mummified MonkBEIJING — A revered Buddhist monk in China has been mummified and covered in gold leaf, a practice reserved for holy men in some areas with strong Buddhist traditions. The monk, Fu Hou, died in 2012 at age 94 after spending most of his life at the Chongfu Temple on a hill in the city of Quanzhou, in southeastern China, according to the temple’s abbot, Li Ren. The temple decided to mummify Fu Hou to commemorate his devotion to Buddhism — he started practicing at age 17 — and to serve as an inspiration for followers of the religion that was brought from the Indian subcontinent roughly 2,000 years ago.
China Mummified MonkImmediately following his death, the monk’s body was washed, treated by two mummification experts, and sealed inside a large pottery jar in a sitting position, the abbot said. When the jar was opened three years later, the monk’s body was found intact and sitting upright with little sign of deterioration apart from the skin having dried out, Li Ren said. The body was then washed with alcohol and covered with layers of gauze, lacquer and finally gold leaf.
China Mummified MonkIt was also robed, and a local media report said a glass case had been ordered for the statue, which will be protected with an anti-theft device. The local Buddhist belief is that only a truly virtuous monk’s body would remain intact after being mummified, local media reports said. “Monk Fu Hou is now being placed on the mountain for people to worship,” Li Ren said.

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In my humble opinion… making mummies is far from a lost art. Monk Fu Hou is a phenomenal piece. He’s a guilded master of permanent human preservation and solid sample of scientific mummification.

I’d like to wake him and hear his views.

In this photo taken April 16, 2016, abbot Zhen Yu places a robe on the mummified body of revered Buddhist monk Fu Hou in Quanzhou city in southeastern China's Fujian province. The monk, who died in 2012 at the age of 94, was prepared for mummification by his temple to commemorate his devotion to Buddhism. The mummifed remains were then treated and covered in gold leaf, a practice reserved for holy men in some areas with strong Buddhist traditions. (Chinatopix via AP) CHINA OUT ORG XMIT: XHG805

In this photo taken April 16, 2016, abbot Zhen Yu places a robe on the mummified body of revered Buddhist monk Fu Hou in Quanzhou city in southeastern China’s Fujian province. The monk, who died in 2012 at the age of 94, was prepared for mummification by his temple to commemorate his devotion to Buddhism. The mummifed remains were then treated and covered in gold leaf, a practice reserved for holy men in some areas with strong Buddhist traditions. (Chinatopix via AP) CHINA OUT ORG XMIT: XHG805

SOLVING THE 5,000-YEAR-OLD MURDER OF “OTZI THE ICEMAN”

A7In 1991, the mummified body of a 5,000-year-old murder victim was discovered in melting ice at a rock-gully crime scene high in the Italian Otzal Alps. Nicknamed “Otzi”, the estimated 45-year-old man and his possessions were incredibly well preserved. His skin, hair, bones, and organs were cryopreserved in time, allowing archeological researchers a phenomenal insight into human life in the Copper Age.

The frozen corpse also gave modern science the opportunity to forensically investigate and positively determine how Otzi The Iceman was killed.

A44On a sunny September day, two hikers were traversing a mountain pass at the 3210 meter (10,530 foot) level and saw a brown, leathery shape protruding from the ice amidst running melt-water. Closely examined, it was a human body which they thought might be the victim of a past mountaineering accident.

They reported it to Austrian police who attended the following day and quickly realized they were dealing with an ancient archeological site. A scientific team was assembled and, over a three-day period, the remains were extracted and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck.

B9Such an incredibly valuable find soon led to a jurisdictional argument between the Austrian and Italian governments and an immediate border survey was done, finding Otzi had been lying ninety-two meters inside of Italian territory. Italy gained legal possession of the body and artifacts, however in the interests of science and history, everything was kept at Innsbruck until a proper, climate-controlled facility was built at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi the Iceman now rests.

Many, many questions arose. Who was he? Where did he come from? How long ago did he live? And, of course, what caused his death?

Technological  advances over the past twenty-five years have answered some questions surrounding Otzi’s life and death and surely the next twenty-five will answer more. This, so far, is what science knows about the Iceman.

A6Otzi was found lying face down with outstretched arms in a protected, rock depression near the Finail Peak watershed at the top of the Tisenjoch pass which connects two forested valleys. The trench measured 40 meters (131 foot) long, between 5 and 8 meters (16–26 foot) wide, and  averaged 3 meters (10 feet) deep. For millennia, this area was covered by glaciers which, by the end of the twentieth century, had receded.

Four separate scientific institutes conducted C-14 radiocarbon dating on Otzi, equivocally agreeing he came from between 3350 and 3100 BC — more than 5,000 years ago. This was the oldest-known preserved human being; far older than the Egyptian and Inca mummifications or the corpses found pickled in peat bogs.

A8Something exceptionally unique about Otzi was that he was a “wet” mummy—an almost unheard of process for a cadaver of this age where humidity was preserved in his cells, unlike the intentional dehydration processes used in Egypt and Peru. As well, Otzi was perfectly intact and not dissected or embalmed by a funeral ritual. His entire body achieved a state of elasticity and, although shrunken, remained as in the day he died including vital clues stored in his digestive tract.

Researchers felt Otzi must have been preserved through a chain of coincidences. It was evident that no damage had been done by predators, scavengers, or insects so it was obvious that the body was covered by snow and/or ice immediately after death. Secondly, the gully lay perpendicular to the main ice flow, allowing the grinding action of the glacier to pass overtop. Thirdly, exposure to air and sunlight was only a brief period before being found by the hikers.

It was vital Otzi remain frozen to avoid an irreversible decomposition and remain intact to preserve his historical significance. This gave researchers limited ability to examine the cadaver as would be done in a conventional autopsy.

B3A thorough external exam was done in 1991 along with Xray radiography images. Notable was a cut to the back of the right hand which showed early signs of healing as well as breaks to the left ribcage, which had healed, and breaks to the right ribs which were fresh at the time of death. A depression in the skull was thought to be caused by the weight of ice compression and analysis of the only remaining fingernail found that the Beau-Reil Lines, which are like rings on a tree trunk, showed significant stress to his immune system in three periods—16, 13, and 8 weeks before death.

A46Other factors told of Otzi’s failing health—understandable for a 45-year-old in the Copper Age who’d then be considered elderly. He suffered from tooth decay, gum disease, and worn joints. What shocked the researchers were the amounts, designs, and placement of tattoos on Otzi’s body. There were 61 separate markings, all made by incisions and insertion of charcoal—not ink as has been used by other cultures for centuries. The locations were consistent with known acupuncture points as practiced for pain relief thought to be discovered by the Chinese two thousand years after Otzi’s existence. It seemed these markings were therapeutic, rather than symbolic.

Despite examination by many leading experts, no exact cause of Otzi’s demise was determined and it was speculated this old man may have fallen, injured himself, then succumbed to the elements. That was until new technology was developed.

A47One of the great challenges was to examine Otzi endoscopically—that is to look internally at his organs. Special high-precision titanium instruments were invented—steel probes that were inserted through tiny incisions in Otzi’s back. Using computerized navigational aids, the tools were guided to exact spots were evidentiary samples could be taken. This was recorded with a hi-definition camera and an entire 3-D map of the mummy’s thorax and abdomen was made.

Lung and digestive tract contents told a time-of-year travel story through the presence of thirty different pollens which entered Otzi’s body by the food he ate, the water he drank, and the air he breathed.

A48Most pollens were from trees and indicated he ingested them during a bloom in the late spring or early summer. The locations and digested states of different pollens in different sections of the stomach and intestines showed Otzi had made a climb from the valley floor to the top of the pass where he died within a twenty-four hour period. Pollens in the lower gastrointestinal tract were identified to low elevation trees and pollens in the upper GI were from higher elevation species.

So, it was known that Otzi had left the populated valley and headed for high country where he met his death. Speculation rose that he might have been fleeing some danger.

A3This theory strengthened in 2001 when new Xrays identified a small, flint arrowhead in Otzi’s left shoulder which was missed ten years earlier. A close examination of Otzi’s back revealed a two-centimeter slash and established the arrow’s path. He’d been shot from a rear and lower position.

In 2005, Otzi was put through a high-resolution, multi-slice CT scanning machine which enlightened the arrow wound. Clearly, the arrowhead had caused a one-centimeter gash in Otzi’s left subclavian artery which is the main circulatory pipeline that carries fresh oxygenated blood from the heart to the left arm. Such a serious tear would have caused massive internal bleeding and rapid death—probably within two minutes.

A49The CT scan showed something else. There was serious bleeding at the base of the brain which corresponded to the depression in Otzi’s skull. He’d suffered a serious head injury right at the time of death. With the cause of death now certain to be from a violent act of homicide, the prime question centered on the circumstances of how all this went down.

Researchers felt the answer may lay in the Iceman’s possessions.

A50Among the artifacts found on and around Otzi’s body were a copper ax, a flint dagger, a quiver with twelve blank arrow shafts and two completed arrows with stone heads. There was also winter clothing and supplies to support wilderness survival.

This speaks to motive, for if robbery was behind Otzi’s murder, it’s certain that the perpetrator(s) would have made off with these valuables. Glaringly missing was the shaft of the fatal arrow, especially in light of Otzi’s quiver arrows being perfectly preserved.

A51Egarter Vigl, a leading archeological expert on the Iceman, believes that the assailant tried to pull out the fatal arrow to destroy evidence, only to snap off the arrowhead inside. Vigl was quoted in the archeology magazine Germani, “telltale markings in the construction of prehistoric arrows could be used to identify the archer much in the way modern ballistics can link a bullet to a gun. The killer yanked out the arrow to cover his tracks. For similar motives, the attacker did not run off with any precious artifacts that remained at the scene, especially the distinctive copper-bladed ax; the appearance of such a remarkable object in the possession of a villager would automatically implicate its owner of the crime.”

I’d have to agree with Mr. Vigl and I’d like to add an observation of my own.

A33In the hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies I’ve examined as a cop and a coroner, I’ve never seen a cadaver with its arms outstretched in a hyperextended position like how Otzi the Iceman was found. This is absolutely unnatural and shrieks to me that someone placed the arms in that position after death.

I think it’s safe to speculate on what might have happened and here’s what Otzi’s crime scene evidence suggests to me.

A52The day before Otzi’s death, he was in a physical altercation down at the village on the valley floor where he suffered the cut hand and possibly the broken right ribs. This caused him to pack up and flee, climbing to the elevated pass where he was overcome by his attacker(s) and shot with the arrow from behind and below. This wound would have put Otzi into hemorrhagic shock and he would have quickly collapsed and internally bled out. Following his collapse, the murderer(s) went up and caved-in the back of Otzi’s head to finish him off.

I don’t think this happened in the gully. I’ve looked at the scene photos and can’t envision how Otzi could have been shot from below in that tight gully, which is what the forensic evidence clearly shows on the arrowhead’s track through the body—even if Otzi were bending over.

A53No, I suspect Otzi was shot elsewhere, dragged by the arms, dumped in the gully with all his possessions, rolled over to remove the arrow, and then covered with ice and/or snow to hide the crime.

After 5,000 years, the answers to “By who?” and “For what reason?” are unlikely to be known—despite what future technology might bring—and the murder of Otzi the Iceman will always remain a really cold case.

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For a fascinating look at the entire Otzi story, including exceptional photos, visit the official website www.Iceman.it at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. Click Here