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Remember When the University of Maryland Mummified a Donated Body?

0 Written by: | Wednesday, Oct 31, 2012 11:06am

Remember when you were in fourth grade and suddenly got obsessed with mummies? There were so many wonderful, gruesome details, like how they’d use an iron hook to scrape the brain out of the skull, and fill the body cavity with spices, myrrh, and palm wine. But for Egyptologist Bob Brier, that information just brought up more questions:  Did the embalmers drain the blood? How do you remove a brain through the nose? What kind of tools did the embalmers use? “I realized that the only way to answer such questions was to actually mummify a human cadaver,” Brier wrote in Archaeology magazine. So, back in 1994, Brier asked a bunch scientists from the University of Maryland to get him a body so they could perform the first human mummification in nearly 2000 years.

The idea behind the experiment was that if the researchers created their own mummy, they could study the progression of mummification to help them better analyze Egyptian mummies. They told UMD they needed a very particular kind of body:  as average as possible, with no evidence of major diseases, and dead from natural causes. The corpse they settled on was a Baltimore man who’d died of heart failure and donated his body to science. Brier and his colleagues rechristened him Mumab, to make the whole thing seem more anonymous and Egyptian, and began the extensive 70-day mummification process.

The team used replicas of Egyptian embalming tools custom-made by a silversmith, and a carpenter recreated a version of an Egyptian embalming table. Ceramicists from Long Island University made the hundreds of vessels required for the process. Brier himself went to Egypt to amass the obligatory 600 pounds of spices and oils. Eventually, 20 pounds of linen would be used to fully wrap the body.

We’ll spare you the details of how they got Mumab’s brain out through his nose in true Egyptian style, but if you want more details, look here. Happy Halloween!

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