AIA Mummification Talk

This past week I attended the AIA talk by Bob Brier. The title of his presentation was “Mummification: Resurrection of a lost art”. He began by speaking to us about the history of mummies in Egypt, and how Egyptians believed in resurrection. Brier described their belief as they would “get up and go in the next life”.

Bob Brier then spoke about his research project that began in 1994. He partnered with National Geographic to recreate an ancient Egyptian style mummy, with no modern tools or ingredients. This project began with researching the practices that the ancient Egyptians used to dehydrate and preserve their dead. Mummification was considered to be a trade secret; the exact process was never recorded. The only written record was from Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, from his travels throughout the Egyptian region. Herodotus mentions that the brains were removed with an iron hook, ‘the slitter’ would remove the organs and natron was used to dehydrate the body. The research team made all of their tools, in the exact process that the ancient Egyptians would have used. Bob Brier even traveled to Egypt to collect four hundred pounds of natron from Wadi Natrum, the same region that the Egyptians would have traveled to themselves.

There were several parts of the mummification process that I was unaware of. For instance, how the brain is removed from the skull. I always believed that the brain was pulled out of the brain with a hook, but it is actually poured out, after the brain has been liquefied by spinning the hook inside the skull. Another part of the Egyptian mummification method that I learned was about the ushabtis statues. Bob Brier informed us that the mummy would be buried with 365 ushabtis statues, which would then come back to life in the future to serve the mummy; one for each day of the year.

The researchers check on the mummy every two years to take a tissue sample and to determine if there is any decay. Seventeen years later there has been no decay. This artificial mummy has become the baseline for analyzing mummies found in Egyptian tombs.

This talk was fascinating and opened my eyes to the meticulous process of mummification.