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Ancient theories on mummy creation deemed 'dead wrong'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Contrary to what was once popularly believed, ancient Egyptian embalmers did not always leave the heart in place or remove the guts using cedar oil enemas in the creation of mummies. Such theories have been held in esteem for thousands of year, in texts left by fifth century B.C. Egyptian historian Herodotus. However, "A lot of his accounts sound more like tourist stories, so we're reticent to take everything he said at face value,' Andrew Wade, an anthropologist at the University of Western Ontario says.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In his writings, Herodotus described first and second class levels of embalming. The elite were slit through the belly, through which organs were removed.

For the lower classes, mummies had organs eaten away with an enema of cedar oil, in a solution thought to be similar to turpentine.

Herodotus also claimed that the brain was removed during embalming while heart was always left in place.

However, these accounts have since been dismissed by researchers. As published in the February issue of HOMO - Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 150 mummies from the ancient world were analyzed to verify these claims.

Wade says that embalming back then was an extremely competitive business, and the tricks of the trade were closely guarded secrets. Wade, along with his colleague Andrew Nelson looked through the literature to see how eviscerations actually took place.

The two went so far as conducting CT scans and 3D reconstructions on seven mummies.

For upper class Egyptians, evisceration was sometimes performed through a slit in the rear. There wasn't much indication that cedar oil enemas were used, as described by Herodotus.

Only 25 percent of the mummification subjects had their hearts left in place. The removal of the heart seems to coincide with the transition period when the middle class gained access to mummification, so getting to keep the heart may have become a status symbol after that point, Wade said.

According to historical records, Egyptian pharaohs often ordered jewels and even wives to be placed in tombs, so that they could bring them along on their spiritual journey.

Embalming was the process of drying a body. Internal organs, besides the heart and kidney, were removed, and then the inside of the body was rinsed with wine to kill bacteria.
 
Huge fees were charged for making Egyptians immortal, which was of paramount importance to them. It is estimated that some 70 million mummies were created before the practice became extinct.

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