Mummification and Brain

Mummification and Brain

During the mummification process, Egyptians would usually remove the brains through the nose.

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We've unearthed mummy upon mummy from Egypt, the oldest dating back to 3500 B.C., but one thing has remained a bit of a mystery: what does the mummification process entail from a surgical point of view? How did they remove the brains, guts, and other vital organs—what tools did they use and how did they train for it? One anthropologist thinks he's found out.

Much like a 46-million-year-old mosquito fossilized mid-meal, Egyptian mummification has long provided us embalmed snapshots of an ancient way of life. Just last week, we found out why King Tut's mummy had not been preserved in the most kingly fashion: his body seemingly experienced ignition inside its sarcophagus due to a flammable cocktail of oxygen, embalming oils, and combustible linens.

One myth of mummy-making has long appealed to our, or perhaps just my, gross sensibilities: mushy brain parts were usually removed from Egyptian mummies and flushed out through the nose, we've been told. And that's not all: more often than not, they were disemboweled and rid of their internal organs as well, to stop decomposition.

In a paper published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, Dr. Andrew Wade at the University of Western Ontario investigated the literal ins and outs of organ-removal techniques. Wade looked at films and forensic scans from a sample of 50 human Egyptian mummies, noting that there were two main methods of both excerebration (brain removal) and evisceration (body organ removal). Occurrences of brain and organ removal increased over time, as mummification was expanded to non-royals.

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