Did Egyptian Mummification Descend from a More Ancient and, Perhaps, Reversible Preservation Technique?

A central concept in the novel The Sphinx Scrolls is whether a mummification technology has ever existed that could preserve someone for long periods and retain the potential to bring them back to life. The book introduces the hypothesis that Egyptian mummification took its inspiration from an older and more advanced system which had such capabilities. But how far-fetched is that idea?

Mummification in Ancient Egypt, despite its success at preserving human tissue over thousands of years, was essentially symbolic. Take away belief in their spiritual afterlife, and the mummification process was just a sophisticated version of taxidermy, designed to halt the decay of skin cells. Internal organs were disposed of, since there was no concoction of spices and salts able to penetrate deep enough to save them.

Kai-i-nefer mummy, Egypt, Late Period, 525-332 BCE.

But could Egyptian mummification have been a simplified, non-functioning version of a lost art of body preservation that had a real chance of reanimation? This notion only has credibility if it is first accepted that the Ancient Egyptians descended from a highly advanced antediluvian civilization, one that has since been lost to history. This controversial theory is based on numerous finds, curiosities and apparent anomalies supporting the tantalizing idea that instead of marking the zenith of mankind’s technological development, Egyptian achievements signaled the tail end of the decline of an even greater society.

Ancient Knowledge and Technology

In 1837 Egyptologist Colonel Howard Vyse blasted a hole in the Great Pyramid of Giza and discovered a section of iron sheet lodged between the inner blocks. Yet the pyramid was constructed two millennia before the Iron Age. Furthermore, a 1989 metallurgical analysis of that iron found traces of gold on its surface, suggesting it had been gold plated. This would have required knowledge of electricity.

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Other clues might also point to an understanding of electricity. The Hathor Temple at Dendera boasts stone reliefs depicting what some have interpreted as lightbulbs.

The Dendera Light ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Some researchers have further speculated that the absence of soot or burn marks from flame torches in some Egyptian tombs could indicate the use of a system of electric lighting. Then there are the drilled holes still to be found in the granite of the Great Pyramid and in many other sites, including stone quarries. Might these perfectly circular, deep holes have been cut using a tool that required electric power? What about the peculiar hieroglyphs in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos which appear to show a helicopter, a boat and an airplane?

The hieroglyphs in Temple of Seti I.

A single aberrant artifact can be explained as a coincidence or a modern misinterpretation. The helicopter carving, for instance, is believed to result from overlapping hieroglyphs following the re-use of the same stone. But faced with many other instances that appear to defy the established historical timeline, should we at least consider the possibility that Pharaonic Egypt represented humanity’s rediscovery of a fraction of what it once knew? After all, did the ability to construct the Great Pyramid of Giza with such scale and accuracy arrive relatively suddenly in a Bronze Age society, or did its builders use knowledge that had been preserved for generations?

Lost Civilization

The Great Sphinx of Giza might be thousands of years older than the pyramids. Some geologists who studied its weathering patterns have claimed it dates back to a time when the Giza plateau had a wet climate – several millennia before the pyramid builders. If this is true, it could support the lost civilization theory. Could the Pharaohs have descended from an advanced antediluvian civilization? Were Ancient Egyptians dimly aware of a past glory, of a time when their ancestors had the potential to ‘live forever’?

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If the theories about Egyptian technology being a remnant of something far older and greater are true, then could their mummification also be a watered down version of a prehistoric technique that used more complex chemistry? Did they practice a pale remembrance of a procedure that preserved cells throughout the body, not just the skin, and that may even have been reversible? If so, they retained only partial knowledge. They didn’t possess the full recipe to mummify their dead with any prospect of genuine reanimation.

Mural of Egyptian Mummy Preparation at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Advanced Cryopreservation

Today’s cryonic sciences aim to preserve people without decay in order that a terminal ailment may be cured at some future date and the subject reanimated for a second chance at life. Cryonic techniques avoid cellular damage from ice during the freezing process by adding cryoprotectant chemicals to the body. These enable water in and around the cells to become solid without forming ice crystals. But the cryoprotectants themselves are harmful, and the system relies on the hope that future scientists will be able to reverse the adverse effects of their use. Is it conceivable that the ancients were able to formulate a cellular antifreeze that could avoid ice damage without harmful side-effects? Did they have a way to halt biological time without inducing permanent low temperatures? Is there a chemical compound which, when pumped through the body to replace the blood at the point of death, enables indefinite preservation without power or ice?

The preserved ancient Egyptian mummy of Seti I. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

This is speculation, not science. Hypothesis, not history. It’s easy to use imagination to joins the dots of history to create a coherent timeline of events without much evidence, but that timeline must be recognized for its speculative nature. Besides, if there was a reversible form of ambient temperature mummification in the distant past, surely such a preserved body would have been found by now? Well, not necessarily. War or natural disaster could explain their absence. Or we could be looking in the wrong place. For a moment, go on a flight of fancy and imagine Plato’s account of Atlantis was based on a real lost civilization with advanced technology, electronics, powered flight, navigation and sophisticated medicine. The Atlantians were said to have looked beyond our atmosphere for the answer to eternal ultra-low temperatures needed for cryo-preservation. They might have used rocketry to send mummified bodies to the outer reaches of the solar system, and this is what their descendants, the Egyptians, tried symbolically to emulate, thinking their dead would go on a journey to the stars.

These are currently topics for fiction. The Sphinx Scrolls joins the dots to create a coherent, dramatic history based on these ideas. It explores what could be true. But the concepts in the novel, however improbable, are not impossible. Perhaps the full recipe for ‘immortality’ still exists, preserved in the legendary ‘hall of records’ associated with the Sphinx? Today’s fiction could yet become tomorrow’s fact.

Stewart Ferris is author of The Sphinx Scrolls .


Ancient Aliens and Jesus

Does ancient aliens distance themselves from doing an episode on Jesus, due to having a fallout from religious extremists? As I understand that would be playing with fire, I also am interested in thier opinion. Someone enlighten me please.

I have looked into that theory myself, and have to say, it is an interesting prospect. However, I think you're right with the fact that AA has always been extremely careful not to cross paths with controversial religious beliefs. I don't think they would jump to make an episode on it even though itɽ make a great episode.

They talk about Mayan gods, how ancient people could have mistaken astronauts for gods, etc. That's not exactly being careful of others religious beliefs imo.

I could have swore they had a segment on it, not a full episodes worth of material but just a mention or two. I could be wrong.

They have touched on it, well they have done the Jews wandering the desert and the mana machine. What the arc of the covenant was, they say alien wepon. They've talked about Ezekiel and the wheels within wheels. They might have mentioned Mohammed and what his flying horse was, but I don't remember for sure

Actually they said the Ark was a holographic communication device. I remember that episode saying that the Ark produced an interactive image of God to which the disciples and "holy men" talked to.

Jesus was royalty. From a family that was ousted and client kings put in their stead. Herod 1 and 2 namely who were persians that paid tribute to the romans to have Judea.

Jesus came from the lineage of David and therefore was the rightful King of the Jews as identified by John the baptist, Messiah means saviour yes, but not in the Catholic sense. Rather, it is the anointed one (the king) and is strongly associated with restoration of the homeland to the Jews.

It is this simple truth that the Knights Templar found out and were exterminated by the Roman Catholics for revealing this truth within their order.

Ancient Knowledge and Technology

In 1837 Egyptologist Colonel Howard Vyse blasted a hole in the Great Pyramid of Giza.

He found a section of iron sheet was wedged between the inner blocks, although the pyramid was built two thousand years previous to the Iron Age.

Furthermore, a 1989 metallurgical examination of that iron revealed traces of gold on the surface, suggesting that it may have been plated.

This technique would have needed the knowledge of electricity. Even stranger, the Hathor Temple at Dendera features stone reliefs, displaying what some have thought were lightbulbs.

The “Dendera light”, showing the single representation on the left wall of the right wing in one of the crypts Photo Credit

Some other researchers have further theorized that the lack of burns or soot from flame torches in several Egyptian tombs might argue the use of a system of electric lighting.

There are drilled holes still to be discovered in the granite of the Great Pyramid and in several other locations, including the stone quarries.

Could these perfectly circular, deep holes have been cut using a tool that needed electrical power?

Curious hieroglyphics can be found in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos – they seem to display an airplane, a boat, and a helicopter.

The hieroglyphs in Temple of Seti I.

A single abnormal artifact can be explained as a chance event or a modern misinterpretation.

The helicopter engraving, for example, is thought to have resulted from the hieroglyphs overlapping after the re-use of the same stone.

Yet faced with several other instances that seem to defy the historical timeline, should we at least consider the possibility of the Pharaonic Egypt having represented humanity’s finding of a fraction of what it once knew?

Did the ability to build the Great Pyramid of Giza with such accuracy and scale come suddenly in the Bronze Age culture?

Or did the creators have knowledge that was preserved for generations?

An Egyptian Mummification

Mummification is the preservation of a body, either animal or human. Some mummies are preserved wet, some are frozen, and some are dried. It can be a natural process or it may be deliberately achieved. The Egyptian mummies were deliberately made by drying the body. By eliminating moisture, you have eliminated the source of decay. They dried the body by using a salt mixture called natron. Natron is a natural substance that is found in abundance along the Nile river. Natron is made up of four salts: sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, and sodium sulfate. The sodium carbonate works as a drying agent, drawing the water out of the body. At the same time the bicarbonate, when subjected to moisture, increases the pH that creates a hostile environment for bacteria. The Egyptian climate lent itself well to the mummification process, being both very hot and dry.

Why Did The Ancient Egyptian’s Mummify Their Dead?

The Egyptians believed that there were six important aspects that made up a human being: the physical body, shadow, name, ka (spirit), ba (personality), and the akh (immortality). Each one of these elements played an important role in the well being of an individual. Each was necessary to achieve rebirth into the afterlife.

With the exception of the akh, all these elements join a person at birth. A person’s shadow was always present. A person could not exist with out a shadow, nor the shadow without the person. The shadow was represented as a small human figure painted completely black.

A person’s name was given to them at birth and would live for as long as that name was spoken. This is why efforts were made to protect the name. A cartouche (magical rope) was used to surround the name and protect it for eternity.

The ka was a person’s double. It is what we would call a spirit or a soul. The ka was created at the same time as the physical body. The doubles were made on a potters wheel by the ram-headed god, Khnum. The ka existed in the physical world and resided in the tomb. It had the same needs that the person had in life, which was to eat, drink, etc. The Egyptians left offerings of food, drink, and worldly possessions in tombs for the ka to use.

The ba can best be described as someone’s personality. Like a person’s body, each ba was an individual. It entered a person’s body with the breath of life and it left at the time of death. It moved freely between the underworld and the physical world. The ba had the ability to take on different forms.

The akh was the aspect of a person that would join the gods in the underworld being immortal and unchangeable. It was created after death by the use of funerary text and spells, designed to bring forth an akh. Once this was achieved that individual was assured of not “dying a second time” a death that would mean the end of one’s existence.

An intact body was an integral part of a person’s afterlife. Without a physical body there was no shadow, no name, no ka, ba, or akh. By mummification, the Egyptians believed they were assuring themselves a successful rebirth into the afterlife.

Mumab I. A Modern Mummy.
From May 21, to June 25, 1994 A.D. a team of scientists from The University of Maryland and The Long Island University performed the first human mummification in nearly 2,000 years. They used replicas of ancient Egyptian embalming tools, one hundred yards of fine Egyptian linen, more than 600 pounds of natron, frankincense and myrrh, oil of cedar, palm wine, and natural resins. The mummification was preformed at The University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, MD.

The two men responsible for this giant leap back in time are Ronn Wade (left), the Director of Anatomical Services at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore Bob Brier (right), an Egyptologist at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University. Their mummy is called Mumab. According to Ronn, Mumab has been tested before and during the mummification and will continue to tested in an effort to create a baseline against which all mummies can be scrutinized. Unlike ancient mummies, this one has a medical history, past, present, and future. Let’s take a look at what they have accomplished and learned from Mumab.

For some time Ronn and Bob had been searching for a suitable donor. They had a list of requirements that had to be fulfilled. They were looking for an average human specimen, someone they could compare to the average Egyptian. It had to be someone who had donated their body to science and was available for a very long, long-term project. It had to be someone whom had never had a major disease and never had an operation. Death must have occur from natural causes, but it did not matter if it was a man or a woman. As luck would have it, it was an elderly man from Baltimore who died from heart failure. The ancient Egyptian mummification process took 70 days. After that this elderly Baltimore man would be Mumab.

In light of all that the Ancient Egyptians have told us in countless text and paintings about almost every aspect of their civilization, It is strange that they left such gaping holes in our knowledge. For instance, we know very little of how the pyramids were constructed, or how obelisks were raised. Like these mysteries, the ancient Egyptians have told us nothing about the mummification process. Perhaps it was considered so sacred that it was only past on verbally to those considered worthy of the knowledge.

One written record concerning mummification to have survived comes from the Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Egypt around 450 BC. He described how the Egyptians preserved their dead. But even with the help of Herodotus, many questions remain. Much of Herodotus’ account of the process is sketchy and open to speculation. For example, how the Egyptians used natron to dry the body has been a controversy ever since early Egyptologists translated the text of Herodotus. Some translated it to mean that the body was “pickled” in a natron solution. This technique would require large vats to soak the corpses in, no evidence to support this theory has ever been found. Instead, there is evidence of large tables being used for the drying process. But it has never been clear why these tables are nearly six feet across, wide enough to fit two corpses. These and many more questions were answered during the mummification of Mumab.

The first step in putting together a modern mummy was to gather the tools and ingredients that would be needed for the process. A silversmith made replicas of Egyptian embalming tools (above). A master carpenter was enlisted to construct an authentic embalming table, similar to one found in an Egyptian tomb. The ceramics department of Long Island University was commissioned to make all the vessels needed for the process. Each marked with hieroglyphs to denote its function. That department also made the canopic jars and 365 ushabtis (left) one spiritual worker for each day of the year.

A trip to Egypt was necessary to collect the spices and oils that would be used. Bob went to the Wadi Natrun district between Cairo and Alexandria to collect the more then 600 pounds (270 kilograms) of natron that would be needed. Here, the Nile river feeds several lakes that rise and recede during the course of each year, leaving large salt deposits along the shore. This natron would be used to dry the body. According to Ronn, “Natron works by getting water out of the tissue, if you don’t have water, you don’t have decay.”

It was time to begin. Ronn and Bob brought the elderly Baltimore man to his ibu the “tent of purification,” which in this case was a room at the School of Medicine in Baltimore. Here, the body was washed with a solution of natron and water. In order to dry the body completely, the internal organs must be removed.

The first organ removed was the brain. The Egyptians believed that the brain was of little importance and it was thrown away when removed. Once again we use Herodotus’ account for guidance. He states that the brain was extracted by poking a hole in the thin bone at the top of the nostrils, the ethmoid bone. A large bronze needle with a hooked or spiral end was used to perform this procedure. However, it has never been clear how such a large organ was removed through such a small hole. It had been speculated that the Egyptians would insert this hook through the nose and the brain could be pulled out in pieces. It proved very difficult to remove using this method. Ronn and Bob improvised. With the corpse lying on its back, they inserted the hook through the nose and managed to pulverize the brain tissue into an almost liquid state. Then they turned the body over onto its stomach, and the liquefied brain tissue drained out through the nostrils. Palm wine and frankincense was used to flush and clean the cranial cavity.

Following Herodotus’ lead, the next step was to remove the internal organs. Herodotus described using of a sharp black stone to slice open the abdomen. It is assumed this was made of obsidian, a black volcanic glass. It had been speculated that obsidian was used because of ritualistic purposes. But, it may have been used simply because it was the best material available for cutting through human tissue. A small incision was made on the left side through which the internal organs where removed. The heart was the only organ that the Egyptians left intact because this is where they believed the essence of a person lived. After removing the internal organs, they were washed with frankincense, myrrh and palm wine. Then they would be dried using natron. After being individually preserved, the organs are stored in a special canister called a canopic jar. The lids of canopic jars are shaped like the heads of Egyptian gods, the four sons of Horus. They are the guardians of the entrails. The canopic jars with their contents would be placed in the tomb with the mummy.

Once the internal organs were removed, Ronn and Bob rinsed his abdominal and thoracic cavities using palm wine and myrrh. This ritual probably had practical roots as it provided a more pleasant aroma than that which typically emanates from a dead body. These cavities were then stuffed with small bags of natron to dry the corpse from the inside out.

The embalming table was constructed to match the specifications of those that had been found in Egyptian tombs. The questions of why this table was so wide would soon be answered? As natron was first poured on the table and then over the body it became clear that they would need the width to keep the body completely surrounded with the 600 pounds of natron. The temperature was maintained at about 115’F (46’C). The humidity was kept under 30 percent. The same conditions as those found in ancient Egypt. After 35 days buried in natron, Mumab was completely desiccated. The moisture that he lost amounted to 100 of his original 160 pounds.

The drying process of mummification only took 35 days. Why then did an Egyptian mummification ritual take 70 days? The answer may lie in the movements of the star Sirius. Sirius was an important star to the Egyptians and we know that they followed its movements very closely. The rising of the dog star, Sirius marked the Egyptian New Year, the beginning of the season of inundation. The time when Sirius disappeared in the sky until the time it returned (Egyptian New Year) was 70 days, perhaps the Egyptians equated this astronomical phenomena with the time needed from death in the physical world to rebirth into the afterlife.

Now that the drying process was complete, the bags of natron that had been placed inside the body could be removed. The empty cavity was swabbed with palm wine, and packed with spices, myrrh, and muslin packets of wood shavings. The body was rubbed with a mixture of five oils: frankincense, myrrh, palm, lotus, and cedar. The scientists removed tissue samples for biopsy, and the mummy was completely checked for the presence of bacteria. Remarkably, three months after this man had died, all the cultures indicated that there was no bacteria present. This was the point at which the mummification was considered a success.

The process was not finished, because the mummy still needed to be wrapped. Photographs of the mummy of Tuthmosis III would be used as a guide. The wrapping was preformed using long strips of linen bandages and shrouds that had been imported from Egypt. Each strip of linen was complete with appropriate hieroglyphic inscriptions. They were attached using a natural resin. In some ancient Egyptian mummies, this resin appears to have been poured on, covering the entire body. Observations of this tar-like substance is how mummies got their name. Early observers believed this resin to be bitumen (tar), the Persian word for bitumen is moumia. The entire wrapping process took several days and required more than 6 layers or 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of linen. In accordance with ancient practice, a heart amulet was placed over Mumab’s heart.

At this point, if Mumab truly were an ancient Egyptian mummy he would be going through burial rituals that dealt with purification and preparing for the afterlife, such as the opening of the mouth ceremony. Mumab’s body is not destined for the afterlife. He is now resting in the Museum of Man in San Diego, CA. He will continue to be studied by Ronn Wade, Bob Brier, and scientists of this, and future generations.

Final part of the puzzle

A mummy's remains dating from the Bronze Age © Lastly, subsequent forensic tests revealed a third and final piece of evidence for mummification.

The technique used to reveal this is based on the fact that, after death, the bacteria in the gut start devouring the body and attacking the skeleton. The bacterial onslaught changes the bone by riddling it with tiny holes. The degree of bacterial damage can then be tested to a high degree of accuracy by a forensic procedure known to scientists as mercury porosimetry.

The corpses had not been allowed to decompose for long

A piece of bone, the volume of which has been very accurately measured, is placed inside a container of known volume. Mercury is then forced into the container under pressure. Some of the mercury enters the tiny holes made by the bacteria - and the scientists can then measure how much mercury has penetrated into the bone and therefore how much bacterial attack took place. In the case of the two South Uist skeletons, the test revealed a very low level of bacterial attack - a level consistent with the body being placed in a peat bog a day or two after death.

The test suggested very strongly that the corpses had not been allowed to decompose for long. It indicated that the process of decomposition had been halted at an early stage - presumably when the body was placed in the peat bog, or perhaps if it had been eviscerated prior to immersion in the bog.

The Legacy of Golems

In most stories, Golems are described as male in appearance and were made to help save Jewish people (even if there was an unfortunate end to the story. However, there are a few notable legends about female golems as well. For example, a rabbi named Horowitz is said to have allegedly created a “beautifully silent” golem for him to have sex with. This was not as common as stories about female golems being created as maidservants that would cook and clean.

Golems are such prominent figures in Jewish legend that they continue to inspire artists and writers to this day. For at least the past two hundred years these creatures have made their way into painting, sculpture, illustration, and more recently video and digital artwork. They still have an air of fascination and magic about them, but also remind us to question what it really means to be human .

Top Image: “The Golem and Rabbi Loew.” Source: CC BY SA


It is important to note that whilst the term embalming is used for both ancient and modern methods toward preservation of a deceased person there is very little connection in terms of actual practises or final aesthetic results.

The Chinchorro culture in the Atacama desert of present-day Chile and Peru are among the earliest cultures known to have performed artificial mummification as early as 5000⁠–⁠6000 BCE. [1]

Perhaps the ancient culture that developed embalming to the greatest extent was Egypt. As early as the First Dynasty (3200 BCE), specialized priests were in charge of embalming and mummification. They did so by removing organs, ridding the body of moisture, and covering the body with natron. [2] The ancient Egyptians believed that mummification enabled the soul to return to the preserved corpse after death.

Other cultures known to have used embalming techniques in antiquity include the Meroites, Guanches, Peruvians, Jivaro Indians, Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans, and Tibetan and southern Nigerian tribes. [1]

The earliest known evidence of artificial preservation in Europe was found in Osorno (Spain) and are about 5000 years old human bones covered in cinnabar for preservation, but embalming remained unusual in Europe up to the time of the Roman Empire. [1]

In China, artificially preserved remains have been recovered from the period of the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), the main examples being those of Xin Zhui and the Mawangdui Han tombs site. While these remains have been extraordinarily well preserved, the embalming fluids and methods used are unknown. [1]

In Europe the ancient practice of artificial preservation had become widespread by about 500 CE. The period of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is known as the anatomists' period of embalming and is characterized by an increased influence of scientific developments in medicine and the need for bodies for dissection purposes. Early methods used are documented by contemporary physicians such as Peter Forestus (1522–1597) and Ambroise Pare (1510-1590). The first attempts to inject the vascular system were made by Alessandra Giliani, who died in 1326. Various attempts and procedures have been reported by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Jacobus Berengar (1470–1550), Bartholomeo Eustachius (1520–1574), Reinier de Graaf (1641–1673), Jan Swammerdam (1637–1680), and Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731). [1]

Modern methods Edit

The modern method of embalming involves the injection of various chemical solutions into the arterial network of the body to primarily disinfect and slow the decomposition process. William Harvey, the 17th century English physician who was the first to detail the system of blood circulation, made his discoveries by injecting colored solutions into corpses. [ citation needed ]

The Scottish surgeon William Hunter was the first to apply these methods to the art of embalming as part of mortuary practice. He wrote a widely read report on the appropriate methods for arterial and cavity embalming in order to preserve bodies for burial. His brother, John Hunter, applied these methods and advertised his embalming services to the general public from the mid-18th century. [ citation needed ]

One of his more notorious clients was dentist Martin Van Butchell. When his wife Mary died on 14 January 1775, he had her embalmed as an attraction to draw more customers. Hunter injected the body with preservatives and color additives that gave a glow to the corpse's cheeks, replaced her eyes with glass eyes, and dressed her in a fine lace dress. The body was embedded in a layer of plaster of Paris in a glass-topped coffin. [4] Butchell exhibited the body in the window of his home and many Londoners came to see it but Butchell drew criticism for the display. A rumor, possibly started by Butchell himself, claimed that his wife's marriage certificate had specified that her husband would only have control over her estate after her death for as long as her body was kept unburied. [5]

Interest in, and demand for, embalming grew steadily in the 19th century largely for sentimental reasons. People sometimes wished to be buried at far-off locations which became possible with the advent of the railways, and mourners wanted the chance to pay their last respects beside the displayed body. Other motives behind embalming were prevention of disease and the wish to prepare funerals and burials, which were becoming more elaborate, without undue haste. After Lord Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, his body was preserved in brandy and spirits of wine mixed with camphor and myrrh for over two months. At the time of his state funeral in 1805, his body was found to still be in excellent condition and completely plastic. [6]

Alternative methods of preservation, such as ice packing or laying the body on so called 'cooling boards', gradually lost ground to the increasingly popular and effective methods of embalming. By the mid 19th century, the newly emerging profession of businessmen-undertakers - who provided funeral and burial services - began adopting embalming methods as standard. [ citation needed ]

Embalming became more common in the United States during the American Civil War, when servicemen often died far from home. The wish of families for their remains to be returned home for local burial and lengthy transport from the battlefield meant it became common in the United States. [7]

The period from about 1861 is sometimes known as the funeral period of embalming and is marked by a separation of the fields of embalming by undertakers and embalming (anatomical wetting) for medical and scientific purposes. [1] Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers to return to their families. Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas. The passage of Abraham Lincoln's body home for burial was made possible by embalming, and it brought the possibilities and potential of embalming to wider public notice. [ citation needed ]

Until the early 20th century, embalming fluids often contained arsenic until it was supplanted by more effective and less toxic chemicals. There was concern about the possibility of arsenic from embalmed bodies contaminating ground water supplies and legal concerns that people suspected of murder by arsenic poisoning might claim in defense that levels of poison in the deceased's body were the result of post-mortem embalming not homicide. [ citation needed ]

In 1867, the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann discovered formaldehyde, whose preservative properties were soon noted, and it became the foundation for modern methods of embalming. [ citation needed ]

Dr. Frederic Ryusch was the first one to have used the arterial injection method for embalming. His work of embalming was so nearly perfect that people thought the dead body was actually alive however, he only used it to prepare specimens for his anatomical work. [8]

Today Edit

Modern embalming is most often performed to ensure a better presentation of the deceased for viewing by friends and relatives. It is also used for medical research or training.

A successful viewing of the body is considered to be helpful in the grieving process. [9] [10] Embalming has the potential to prevent mourners from having to deal with the rotting and eventual putrescence of the corpse. [11] It is a general legal requirement for international repatriation of human remains (although exceptions do occur) [ citation needed ] and is required by a variety of laws depending on locality and circumstance, such as for extended time between death and final disposition or above-ground entombment.

A new embalming technique developed gradually since the 1960s by anatomist Walter Thiel at the Graz Anatomy Institute in Austria has been the subject of various academic papers, as the cadaver retains the body's natural color, texture and plasticity after the process. [12] The method uses 4-chloro-3-methylphenol and various salts for fixation, boric acid for disinfection, and ethylene glycol for the preservation of tissue plasticity. [13] Thiel embalmed cadavers are used in anatomical research, surgical and anaesthesia training, preoperative test procedures, CT image quality studies. [14]

Jessica Mitford and the Revisionist Position Edit

This beneficial perception of the viewing of a properly embalmed deceased person has been challenged, however, by authors such as Jessica Mitford, who point out that there is no general consensus that viewing an embalmed corpse is somehow "therapeutic" to the bereaved, and that terms such as "memory picture" were invented by the undertakers themselves, who have a financial interest in selling the costly process of embalming to the public. This argument ignores the fact that there is no general consensus for any funeral practice, and the indisputable fact that, ceteris paribus, an embalmed body will look better than an unembalmed one, which is still actively decomposing. Mitford also points out that, in many countries, embalming is rare, and the populace of such countries are still able to grieve normally, [15] although this argument would be of equal validity about any number of technologies or knowledges common in one place but lacking in another that thus manages without them.

An embalmer is someone who has been trained and qualified in the art and science of sanitization, presentation, and preservation of the human deceased. The term mortician is far more more generic it may refer to someone who is a funeral director, an embalmer, or just a person prepares the deceased, with or without the formal qualification of an embalmer. Thus whilst all embalmers are morticians, many morticians are not embalmers and the terms are not synonymous. Embalming training commonly involves formal study in anatomy, thanatology, chemistry, and specific embalming theory (to widely varied levels depending on the region of the world one lives in) combined with practical instruction in a mortuary with a resultant formal qualification granted after the passing of a final practical examination and acceptance into a recognized society of professional embalmers. The roles of a funeral director and embalmer are different, depending on the locals custom and licensing body for a region in which the funeral director and/or embalmer operate. A funeral director arranges for the final disposition of the deceased, and may or may not prepare the deceased, including embalming, for viewing (or other legal requirements).

Legal requirements over who can practice vary geographically. Some regions or countries do not have specific requirements, whilst others have clear prohibitions. In the United States, the title of an embalmer is largely based on the state in which they are licensed. Additionally, in many places, embalming is not done by specialist embalmers, but rather by doctors, medical technicians or laboratory technicians who, while they have the required anatomical or chemical knowledge, are not trained specialists in this field. [16] Today, embalming is a common practice in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland, while it is much less frequent in many parts of Europe most modern countries have embalming available in some manner.

As practiced in the funeral home embalming involves several distinct steps. Modern embalming techniques are not the result of a single practitioner, but rather the accumulation of many decades, even centuries, of research, trial and error, and invention. A standardized version follows below, but variation in techniques are common.

The first step in embalming is to verify the permissions and requests of the family followed by a careful plan for the deceased's preparation, including reviewing the medical certificate of death. The deceased is placed on the mortuary table in the supine anatomical position with the head elevated by a head rest. Before commencing any preparation the embalmer will verify the identity of the body (normally via wrist or leg bracelets or tags). At this point, embalmers commonly perform an initial evaluation of the deceased's condition, noting things such as lividity, rigor mortis, skin condition, edema, intravenous injection sites, presence of fecal matter, tissue gas and numerous other factors which may affect the procedure and final outcome. The embalming procedure is a surgical one, albeit rather minimally invasive. The process requires significant effort over the course of multiple hours, including intensive planning, evaluation, and chemical selection.

Any clothing on the body is removed and set aside, and any personal effects such as jewelry are inventoried. A modesty cloth is commonly placed over the genitalia. The body is washed in a germicidal soap. During this process the embalmer bends, flexes, and massages the arms and legs to relieve rigor mortis. The eyes are posed using an eye cap that keeps them shut and in the proper expression. The mouth may be closed via suturing with a needle and ligature, using an adhesive, or by setting a wire into the maxilla and mandible with a needle injector, a specialized device most commonly used in North America and unique to mortuary practice. Care is taken to make the expression look as relaxed and natural as possible, and ideally, a recent photograph of the deceased in good health is used as a reference. The process of closing the mouth and eyes, shaving, etc. is collectively known as setting the features. Features may also be set after the completion of the arterial embalming process, which allows the embalmer to clean and remove any purge that occurs during the embalming process.

The actual embalming process usually involves four parts:

    embalming, which involves the injection of embalming chemicals into the blood vessels, usually via the right common carotid artery. Blood and interstitial fluids are displaced by this injection and, along with excess arterial solution, are expelled from the right jugular vein and collectively referred to as drainage. The embalming solution is injected with a centrifugal pump, and the embalmer massages the body to break up circulatory clots so as to ensure the proper distribution of the embalming fluid. This process of raising vessels with injection and drainage from a solitary location is known as a single-point injection. In cases of poor circulation of the arterial solution, additional injection points (commonly the axillary, brachial, or femoral arteries, with the ulnar, radial, and tibial vessels if necessary) are used. The corresponding veins are commonly also raised and utilized for drainage. Cases where more than one vessel is raised are referred to as multiple-point injection, with a reference to the number of vessels raised (i.e. a six-point injection or six-pointer). As a general rule, the more points needing to be raised, the greater the difficulty of the case. In some cases draining from a different site from injection (i.e. injecting arterial fluid into the right common carotid artery and draining from the right femoral vein) is referred to as a split (or sometimes cut) injection. In certain cases the embalmer may deem it necessary to perform a restricted cervical injection, which involves injecting the head of the deceased separately from the rest of body. This is done in cases where distention (swelling) has a greater chance of occurring. In many cases, an embalmer may select to perform what is known as a pre-injection. A pre-injection is a solution of chemicals that do not contain any preservative chemicals, but rather chemicals that encourage vasodilation, help disperse blood clots, and act as chelating agents. The focus of this "pre-injection" is to allow for a more complete drainage and better distribution of the arterial embalming solution.
  1. Cavity treatment/embalming refers to the removal of internal fluids inside body cavities via the use of an aspirator and trocar. The embalmer makes a small incision just above the navel (two inches superior and two inches to the right) and pushes the trocar into the abdominal and chest cavities. This first punctures the hollow organs and aspirates their contents. The embalmer then fills the cavities with concentrated chemicals (known as Cavity Chemicals) that contain formaldehyde, which are delivered to the chest cavity via the trocar inserted through the diaphragm. [17] The incision is either sutured closed (commonly using the purse-string or 'N' suture methods) or a "trocar button" is secured into place. embalming is a supplemental method which refers to the injection of embalming chemicals into tissue with a hypodermic needle and syringe, which is generally used as needed on a case-by-case basis to treat areas where arterial fluid has not been successfully distributed during the main arterial injection.
  2. Surface embalming, another supplemental method, utilizes embalming chemicals to preserve and restore areas directly on the skin's surface and other superficial areas as well as areas of damage such as from accident, decomposition, cancerous growths, or skin donation.

The duration of an embalming can vary greatly, but a common approximate time of between two and four hours to complete an embalming is typical. However, an embalming case that presents excessive complications could require substantially longer. The treatment of someone who has undergone an autopsy, cases of extreme trauma, or the restoration of a long-bone donor are a few such examples, and embalmings which require multiple days to complete are known.

Embalming is meant to temporarily preserve the body of a deceased person. Regardless of whether embalming is performed, the type of burial or entombment, and the materials used – such as wood or metal coffins and vaults – the body of the deceased will, under most circumstances, eventually decompose. Modern embalming is done to delay decomposition so that funeral services may take place or for the purpose of shipping the remains to a distant place for disposition.

After the body is rewashed and dried, a moisturizing cream is applied to the face, hands and arms. Ideally the deceased will usually sit for as long as possible for observation by the embalmer. After being dressed for visitation or funeral services, cosmetics are commonly, but not universally, applied to make the body appear more lifelike and to create a "memory picture" for the deceased's friends and relatives. For babies who have died, the embalmer may apply a light cosmetic massage cream after embalming to provide a natural appearance massage cream is also used on the face to prevent it from dehydrating, and the infant's mouth is often kept slightly open for a more natural expression. If possible, the funeral director uses a light, translucent cosmetic sometimes, heavier, opaque cosmetics are used to hide bruises, cuts, or discolored areas. Makeup is applied to the lips to mimic their natural color. Sometimes a very pale or light pink lipstick is applied on males, while brighter colored lipstick is applied to females. Hair gel or baby oil is applied to style short hair while hairspray is applied to style long hair. Powders (especially baby powder) are applied to the body to eliminate odors, and it is also applied to the face to achieve a matte and fresh effect to prevent oiliness of the corpse. Mortuary cosmeticizing is not done for the same reason as make-up for living people rather, it is designed to add depth and dimension to a person's features that lack of blood circulation has removed. Warm areas – where blood vessels in living people are superficial, such as the cheeks, chin, and knuckles – have subtle reds added to recreate this effect, while browns are added to the palpebrae (eyelids) to add depth, especially important as viewing in a coffin creates an unusual perspective rarely seen in everyday life. During the viewing, pink-colored lighting is sometimes used near the body to lend a warmer tone to the deceased's complexion.

A photograph of the deceased in good health is often sought to guide the embalmer's hand in restoring the body to a more lifelike appearance. Blemishes and discolorations (such as bruises, in which the discoloration is not in the circulatory system, and cannot be removed by arterial injection) occasioned by the last illness, the settling of blood, or the embalming process itself are also dealt with at this time (although some embalmers utilize hypodermic bleaching agents, such as phenol-based cauterants, during injection to lighten discoloration and allow easier cosmeticizing). It is also common for the embalmer to perform minor restoration of the deceased's appearance with tissue building chemicals and a hypodermic syringe. Tissue building chemicals (Tissue Builders) become solid with the introduction of liquids such as water or interstitial fluids. Commonly the area where the sphenoid and temporal bones meet this can also be referred to the temples. In the event of trauma or natural depressions on the face or hands, tissue builder can also be utilised to return those regions of the face to the expectations of the family.

As with all funeral practises local custom, culture, religion and family request are the key determiners of clothing for the deceased. In the Western world, men are usually buried in business attire, such as a suit or coat and tie, and women in semi-formal dresses or pant suits. In recent years, a change has occurred, and many individuals are now buried in less formal clothing, such as what they would have worn on a daily basis, or other favorite attire. The clothing used can also reflect the deceased person's profession or vocation: priests and ministers are often dressed in their liturgical vestments, and military and law enforcement personnel often wear their uniform. Underwear, singlets, bras, briefs, and hosiery are all used if the family so desires, and the deceased is dressed in them as they would be in life.

In certain instances a funeral director will request a specific style of clothing, such as a collared shirt or blouse, to cover traumatic marks or autopsy incisions. In other cases clothing may be cut down the back and placed on the deceased from the front to ensure a proper fit. In many areas of Asia and Europe, the custom of dressing the body in a specially designed shroud or burial cloth, rather than in clothing used by the living, is preferred.

After the deceased has been dressed, they are generally placed in their coffin or casket. In American English, the word coffin is used to refer to an anthropoid (stretched hexagonal) form, whereas casket refers specifically to a rectangular coffin. It is common for photographs, notes, cards, and favourite personal items to be placed in the coffin with the deceased. Bulky and expensive items, such as electric guitars, are occasionally interred with a body. In some ways this mirrors the ancient practice of placing grave goods with a person for their use or enjoyment in the afterlife. In traditional Chinese culture, paper substitutes of the goods are buried or cremated with the deceased instead, as well as paper money specifically purchased for the occasion.

Embalming chemicals are a variety of preservatives, sanitizers, disinfectant agents, and additives used in modern embalming to temporarily delay decomposition and restore a natural appearance for viewing a body after death. A mixture of these chemicals is known as embalming fluid, and is used to preserve deceased individuals, sometimes only until the funeral, other times indefinitely.

Typical embalming fluid contains a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, humectants and wetting agents, and other solvents that can be used. The formaldehyde content generally ranges from 5-35%, and the methanol content may range from 9-56%.

Environmentalists sometimes have concerns about embalming because of the harmful chemicals involved and their potential interactions with the environment, despite the fact that formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance and does not bioaccumulate in plants or animals. Recently, more eco-friendly embalming methods have become available, including formaldehyde-free mixtures of chemicals. [18]

Badly decomposing bodies, trauma cases, frozen, or drowned bodies, and those to be transported over long distances also require special treatment beyond that for the "normal" case. The restoration of bodies and features damaged by accident or disease is commonly called restorative art or demisurgery, and all qualified embalmers have some degree of training and practice in it. For such cases, the benefit of embalming is startlingly apparent. In contrast, many people have unrealistic expectations of what a dead body should look like, due to the near-universal portrayal of dead bodies by live actors in movies and television shows. Ironically, the work of a skilled embalmer often results in the deceased appearing natural enough that the embalmer appears to have done nothing at all. Normally, a better result can be achieved when a photograph and the decedent's regular make-up (if worn) are available to help make the deceased appear more as they did when alive.

Embalming autopsy cases differs from standard embalming because the nature of the post mortem examination irrevocably disrupts the circulatory system, due to the removal of the organs and viscera. In these cases, a six-point injection is made through the two iliac or femoral arteries, subclavian or axillary vessels, and common carotids, with the viscera treated separately with cavity fluid or a special embalming powder in a viscera bag.

Long-term preservation requires different techniques, such as using stronger preservatives and multiple injection sites to ensure thorough saturation of body tissues.

A rather different process is used for cadavers embalmed for dissection by medical professionals, students, and researchers. Here, the first priority is for long-term preservation, not presentation. As such, medical embalmers use anatomical wetting fluids that contain concentrated formaldehyde (37–40%, known as formalin) or glutaraldehyde and phenol, and are made without dyes or perfumes. Many embalming chemical companies make specialized anatomical embalming fluids.

Anatomical embalming is performed into a closed circulatory system. The fluid is usually injected with an embalming machine into an artery under high pressure and flow, and allowed to swell and saturate the tissues. After the deceased is left to sit for a number of hours, the venous system is generally opened and the fluid allowed to drain out, although many anatomical embalmers do not use any drainage technique.

Anatomical embalmers may choose to use gravity-feed embalming, where the container dispensing the embalming fluid is elevated above the body's level, and fluid is slowly introduced over an extended time, sometimes as long as several days. Unlike standard arterial embalming, no drainage occurs, and the body distends extensively with fluid. The distension eventually reduces, often under extended (up to six months) refrigeration, leaving a fairly normal appearance. No separate cavity treatment of the internal organs is given. Anatomically embalmed cadavers have a typically uniform grey colouration, due both to the high formaldehyde concentration mixed with the blood and the lack of red colouration agents commonly added to standard, nonmedical, embalming fluids. Formaldehyde mixed with blood causes the grey discoloration also known as "formaldehyde grey" or "embalmer's grey".

Opinions differ among different faiths as to the permissibility of embalming. A brief overview of some of the larger faiths positions are:

A recipe for preservation

In 2014, a research grant from Macquarie University afforded a unique opportunity to forensically examine this Turin mummy.

Working with an international team, we took minute samples of textile and skin for biochemical analysis, radiocarbon dating, textile analysis and DNA analysis of pathogenic bacteria.

The mummy had not undergone conservation in the museum which meant that contamination was minimal, making him an ideal subject for scientific investigation. The downside of not having been conserved and consolidated is that he is extremely fragile and damaged.

A close-up of linen fibres the Turin mummy was wrapped in for burial. Ron Oldfield, Author provided

Chemical analysis of the residues on the textile wrappings from the torso and wrist using a technique known as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed the presence of a plant oil or animal fat, a sugar/gum, a conifer resin and an aromatic plant extract.

The resin and aromatic plant extracts are the two main antibacterial components that would have repelled insects and preserved the soft tissue underneath. Chemical signatures indicate gentle heating, so it was indeed a “recipe” that was probably applied by dipping the linen into the melted mixture and then wrapping.

New Kingdom

The Eighteenth Dynasty marks the beginning of the New Kingdom. Various pharaohs extended the control of Egypt further than ever before, retaking control of Nubia and extending power northwards into the Upper Euphrates, the lands of the Hittites, and Mitanni.

Eighteenth Dynasty

Golden mask from the mummy of Tutankhamun

This was a time of great wealth and power for Egypt. Hatshepsut was a pharaoh at this time. Hatshepsut is unusual as she was a female pharaoh, a rare occurrence in Egyptian history. She was an ambitous and competent leader, extending Egyptian trade south into present-day Somalia and north into the Mediterranean. She ruled for twenty years through a combination of widespread propaganda and deft political skill. By the time of Amenhotep III (1417 BC� BC), Egypt had become so wealthy that he did nothing to further extend its powers and instead rested upon his throne gilded with Nubian gold. He was succeeded by his son Amenophis IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten. He moved the capital to a new city he built and called it Akhetaten. Here with his new wife Nefertiti, he concentrated on building his new religion and ignored the world outside of Egypt. This allowed various underground factions to build that were not happy with his new world. The new religion was something that had never happened before in Egypt. Previously, new gods came along and were absorbed into the culture, but no god was allowed to push out any old ones. Akhenaten, however, formed a monotheistic religion around Aten, the sun disc. Worship of all other gods was banned, and this move is what caused the majority of the internal unrest. The relationship between Akhenaten's introduction of monotheism, and the biblical character of Moses, who is located in Egypt at a similar (although not necessarily simultaneous) period, is both unclear and controversial.

A new culture of art was introduced during this time that was more naturalistic and a complete turnabout from the stylised frieze that had ruled Egyptian art for the last 1700 years. Concerning art and Akhenaten, an area of interest to many Egyptologists is the peculiarity of Akhenaten's physical features. Many pharaohs are portrayed in a stylized manner however, Akhenaten is shown in paintings and carvings with unusually feminine features, specifically wide hips and elongated, delicate facial features. Some theories assume that the depiction is accurate and not stylized, suggesting that Akhenaten suffered from birth defects which were common among the royal families.

Towards the end of his 17-year reign, Akhenaten took a co-regent, Smenkhkare, who is sometimes considered to be his brother. Their co-reign lasted only 2 years. When Akhenaten died, worship of the old gods was revived. In truth, their worship had never ended, but had instead gone underground. Smenkhkare died after a few months of sole reign, and in his place was crowned a young boy. He was not ready for the pressure of ruling this great country, and the advisors that surrounded him made the decisions for him. His given name was Tutankhaton, but with the resurgence of Amun, he was re-named Tutankhamun. One of the most influential advisors was General Horemheb. Tutankhamun died while he was still a teenager and was succeeded by Ay, who probably married Tutankhamun's widow to strengthen his claim to the throne. It is possible that Horemheb made Ay a monarch to act as a transitional king until he was ready to take over. In any case, when Ay died, Horemheb became ruler, and a new period of positive rule began. He set about securing internal stability and re-establishing the prestige that the country had before the reign of Akhenaten.

Nineteenth Dynasty

The Nineteenth Dynasty was founded by general Ramesses I, appointed heir by Horemhab. He only reigned for about a year and was followed by his son Seti I (or Sethos I). Sethos I carried on the good work of Horemheb in restoring power, control, and respect to Egypt. He also was responsible for creating the fantastic temple at Abydos. Seti I and his son Ramesses II are the only two pharaohs known to have been circumscribed, although quite why they had this performed is somewhat of a mystery. Ramesses II, his son and successor, reigned for 67 years from the age of 18 and carried on his father's work and created many more splendid temples, such as that of Abu Simbel. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem about him called Ozymandias.

The time frame for the reign of Ramesses II is often believed to have coincided with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, as Rameses II built his capital Per-Ramses, on the site of Hyksos Avaris, shifting the capital of Egypt to the Delta (the land of Goshen). Others dispute this claim, setting exodus as an earlier or later event, or disputing whether Exodus was a historical event at all. There are no records in Egyptian history of any of the events described in the Bible, nor any archaeological evidence. Indeed, even though there are records so detailed as to describe the escape of a pair of minor convicts from Egyptian territory, there is no such record for hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves. Linguistic studies have drawn certain potential origins for elements of biblical history, although they do conflict substantially with the biblical accounts - for example, records about the Sea Peoples may indicate that the Israelite tribe of Dana and possibly Asher attacked Egypt during the later 19th and early 20th Dynasty, although they also indicate that these tribes were allied with the Philistines rather than against them.

Ramesses II was succeeded by his son Merneptah and then by Merenptah's son Seti II. Seti II's throne seems to have been disputed by his half-brother Amenmesse, who may have temporarily ruled from Thebes. Upon his death, Seti II's polio afflicted son, Siptah, was appointed to the throne by Chancellor Bay, an Asiatic commoner who served as vizier behind the scenes. On Siptah's early death, the throne was assumed by Twosret dowager queen of Seti II (and possibly Amenmesses's sister). A period of anarchy at the end of Twosret's short reign, saw a native reaction to foreign control, led by Setnakhte who reigned for less than 12 months before passing the throne to his mature son, Ramesses III. These last two kings were pharaohs of the Twentieth Dynasty. Rameses III, after saving Egypt through a number of battles, with Libyans and Sea Peoples, was followed by a number of short-lived reigns by pharaohs all called Ramesses.

New Kingdom mummies

In this New Kingdom, coffins changed shape from the Middle Kingdom rectangle to the familiar mummy-shape with a head and rounded shoulders. At first these were decorated with carved or painted feathers, but later were painted with a representation of the deceased. They were also put together like Russian Matryoshka dolls in that a large outer coffin would contain a smaller one, which contained one that was almost moulded to the body. Each one was more elaborately decorated than the one larger than it.

It is from this time that most mummies have survived. The soft tissues like the brain and internal organs were removed. The cavities were washed and then packed with natron, and the body buried in a pile of natron. The intestines, lungs, liver and stomach were preserved separately and stored in Canopic Jar protected by the Four Sons of Horus. Such was the perceived power of these jars that even when the Twenty-First Dynasty started to return the organs to the body after preservation instead of using the jars, the jars continued to be included in the tombs.


The Culture of Freshwater Pearls

The Sacrificial Ceremony

Ice Mummies of the Inca

Mountain Worship

The Incas worshipped the high peaks that pierce the South American skies. These rugged summits represented a means of approaching the Sun God, Inti, the center of their religion, and many sacrifices were made atop these cold and unpredictable pinnacles. Mountain deities were seen as lords of the forces of nature who presided over crops and livestock. In essence they were the protectors of the Inca people, the keepers of life who reached up toward the skies where the sacred condor soared.

Many theories exist about why the Incas performed ritual ceremonies, which sometimes included human sacrifices, at elevations approaching 23,000 feet. Most scholars agree that the purpose of the sacrifice, known as "capacocha," was to appease the mountain gods and to assure rain, abundant crops, protection, and order for the Inca people. Sacrifices often coincided with remarkable occasions: earthquakes, eclipses, droughts. On these occasions the Incas were required to offer valuables from the highest regions they could reach—the ice-clad summits of Andean peaks. Truly auspicious events, such as the death of an emperor, prompted human sacrifices, perhaps to provide an escort for the emperor on his journey to the Other World.

The frigid and dry mountain air kept the microbes that normally decay corpses at bay, preserving soft tissues like skin and hair.

The fact that many high elevation sacrificial sites are located near trans-mountain roads suggests that sacrifices were also made in conjunction with the expansion of the Inca civilization itself. The extensive roads in the southernmost regions were integral to the expansion of the empire southward. Especially important were the trans-mountain, or east-west, roads, which linked north-south running ranges and valleys over high-mountain passes. Near such routes, the Incas chose high peaks, climbed them, built their platforms, and made sacrifices, sometimes human, to assure safe continued passage and to bless the roads. The mummy of a young boy on Mount Aconcagua, discovered in 1985, could be one such sacrifice. His tomb is near one of the most important trans-mountain paths which today is virtually the same route as the major international highway linking Argentina and Chile.

Remarkable Discoveries

The first frozen high mountain Inca human sacrifice was found atop a peak in Chile in 1954. "La Momia del Cerro El Plomo," the Mummy of El Plomo Peak became its name, and until Juanita, it was heralded as the best preserved. Scientists were able to establish many of the El Plomo mummy's vital statistics: he was male, 8 or 9 years old, type O blood, and presumably from a wealthy family due to his portly physique.

A unique set of circumstances made the discovery of Juanita possible. The eruption of a nearby volcano, Mt. Sabancaya, produced hot ash, which slowly melted away the 500 years of accumulated ice and snow encasing the mummy. A brightly-colored burial tapestry, or "aksu" was revealed, the fresh hues remarkably preserved. Since the heavy winter storms had not yet covered the body, Dr. Reinhard was able to recover the mummy.

The fact that ice preserved the body makes Juanita a substantial scientific find. All other high-altitude Inca mummies have been completely desiccated—freeze-dried in a way—much like mummies found elsewhere in the world. Juanita, however, is almost entirely frozen, preserving her skin, internal organs, hair, blood, even the contents of her stomach. This offers scientists a rare glimpse into the life of these pre-Columbian people. DNA makeup can be studied, revealing where Juanita came from, perhaps even linking her to her living relatives. Stomach contents can be analyzed to reveal more about the Inca diet. Juanita is the closest sacrifice to Cuzco, the Inca capital. This, in addition to the fact that the clothing she was wearing resembles the finest textiles from that great city, suggests she may have come from a noble Cuzco family. The almost perfectly preserved clothing offer a storehouse of information, giving insight into sacred Inca textiles, as well as how the Inca nobility dressed.

It took incredible effort to hold sacrificial rituals in the thin air and life-threatening cold of the high Andes. At 20,000 feet, near the summit of Mt. Ampato where Juanita was found, Johan Reinhard discovered extensive camps or "rest stops" on the route to the ritual site at the summit. Evidence of Inca camp sites atop Ampato include remains of wooden posts for large, blanket-covered tents, stones used for tent platform floors, and an abundance of dried grass used for walkways and to insulate tent floors. These are heavy materials that must have been hauled many miles up the barren mountainside. The trek itself to the sacrificial site was a remarkable undertaking, involving whole entourages of priests and villagers, provisions, water, as well as symbolic items used in the ritual, all carried on the backs of hundreds of llamas and porters.

Johan Reinhard's climbing partner, Miguel Zí¡rate, on the slopes of Mt. Ampato

A Mummy Pair

A month after Reinhard's amazing discovery of Juanita, he returned to Ampato with a full archaeological team to explore Ampato further. This time, several thousand feet below the summit, they found two more mummy children, a girl and a boy. It is believed these may have been companion sacrifices to the more important sacrifice of Juanita on Ampato's summit. These children may have also been buried as a pair in a symbolic marriage. A Spanish soldier who witnessed such sacrifices wrote in 1551: "Many boys and girls were sacrificed in pairs, being buried alive and well dressed and adorned. items that a married Indian would possess." Buried with them were cloth-covered offering bundles, nearly 40 pieces of pottery, decorated wooden utensils, weaving tools, and even a pair of delicately woven sandals. At an elevation equal to that of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, these sacrificial burial sites have preserved the Inca past more vividly than any other discovery, adding a deeper understanding of one of the world's great civilizations.

Watch the video: 10 Humans Who Were Preserved In Time (January 2022).