A new look at mummification

Posted on 24 October 2011

York team turns ideas of mummification inside out

Image: Channel 4: Mummifying Alan: Egypt's last secret

Stephen Buckley and Joann Fletcher are offering a wholly different interpretation of the process of mummification during its acme in the 18th Dynasty (C.1500-1300 BC). Previous ideas have suggested that natron (a mixture of sodium rich salts) was used in its dry form to desiccate the body by drawing out fluids. However, the presence of unusual crystal growths visible in x-rays of 18th dynasty royal mummies led them to believe that such bodies were mummified by immersion in a solution of liquid natron, a theory further confirmed by chemical analysis of the soft tissue. their studies also suggest that specific resins and oils were another key requirement, protecting the skin from the caustic effect of the natron solution.

Following eight years of experiments in the lab, their theories were put to the test earlier this year when terminal lung cancer victim Alan Billis answered an advert for a body donor from a television company.

With support for the research from the British Medical Association and the involvement of Home Office Pathologist Prof. Peter Vanezis and Prof. Bill Bass of the Forensic Anthropology centre (aka 'The Body Farm'), Alan's body was then preserved at the Sheffield Medico-Legal centre and the results broadcast on 24th October on Channel 4 Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret.

For further details

New Scientist