Back from the dead

October 25, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

mouth2.gifSince I was on a bit of a theme earlier this week around death, let’s have a look at what one Egyptologist is up to. Should you be thinking of donating your body to science, you might want to stipulate that you’d like to be placed in the hands of Egyptologists keen to recreate authentic Egyptian mummies and sprinkle you with a mountain of natron.

I’m not sure that a US man who snuffed it 13 years ago had this in mind when he donated his body to the pursuit of science, but he was handed over to Bob Brier, an Egyptologist at Long Island University and Ronald Wade, director of the Maryland State Anatomy Board. Brier and Wade set to work. They removed and pickled all the organs except the heart, buried the body under a ton of natron (which basically dried out the corpse) for 30 days. Then they sprinkled the dessicated body with frankincense and myrhh (an important part of the embalming process as well as making mummies smell pretty good).

Brier and Wade took the whole thing seriously even reciting sacred prayers as they wrapped the body tightly with pieces of linen. Herodotus did a brief sketch in The Histories of the mummification process and of course Hollywood movies were full of hooks going up the nasal cavity to scoop out the brain with Anubis watching over the ritual. But this is the first time in over 2000 years that mummification according to Egyptian techniques has been tried.

Brier examined hundreds of x-rays of mummies to try to reverse engineer things like how to drain the body of blood or remove the organs through a small incision in the belly. I won’t tell you the gruesome details of how they used a coat-hanger device to liquify the brain and inverted the body. The modern day mummy has now been sitting around at room temperature for nearly 15 years with no signs of decay.

In a rather bizarre case of KM in action, Brier offered up the mummy to other researchers so they could learn how to isolate DNA from the body without destroying mummified remains. This helped Angelique Corthals, a biomedical Egyptologist from the University of Manchester in England, determine the best way to isolate DNA from ancient specimens. The Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt (which Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass heads up and I love to watch on the Discovery Channel) was confident enough to let Corthals extract samples of DNA from an Egyptian mummy believed to be that of Queen Hatshepsut. Preliminary evidence suggests that the lost queen of Egypt has been found.

Well, when I go, I might just consider offering myself up as a modern day mummy. Thousands of years from now, when they dig me up, they might just think I was royalty launching myself into the After Life!

Source: Discover Magazine. Image credit: How are Mummies Made?


Entry filed under: Archaeology, Science.

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