Friday, October 21, 2011

Quigley's Cabinet corrects a claim

A documentary on Britain's Channel 4 - "Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret" - will air on Monday that is said to be about "the first person in the world for 3,000 years to be mummified in the same way as the pharaohs." Quigley begs to differ and suggests that the body donor is the second to be mummified in the ancient Egyptian manner in millennia. Please compare:

2011 (1st image)
Research team: Chemist Stephen Buckley of York University, pathologist Peter Vanezis of the William Harvey Research Institute, archaeologist Joann Fletcher of York University.
Preparation: Dr. Buckley analyzed mummy tissue samples using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer to identify the beeswax, oils, and resins used by the ancient embalmers. He then experimented in simulated desert conditions substituting pig legs for human flesh.
Body Donor: A former British taxi driver with terminal cancer.
Procedure: Internal organs were removed through an incision in his side, but the brain and the heart were left in place. The abdominal cavity was sterilized with a substitute for the palm wine that would have been used, and packed with small linen bags containing crushed spices, myrrh, and sawdust. The corpse was covered in a special protective layer of plant oil, pine resin, spices, and beeswax before being immersed for 35 days in a bath containing the exact components of the naturally-occuring natron salt that was used. It was dried for 2 weeks under appropriate conditions of heat and humidity, wrapped in linen strips applied with pine resin and beeswax, and allowed to dry for a further 6 weeks. (Read details here.)
Aim: The experimental mummification was intended to uncover the preservation techniques used by the ancient Egyptians during the 18th dynasty.
Results: "It's turned current understanding, including my own, completely on its head," said Dr. Buckley.
Curation: The body will be kept at the Sheffield Medico-Legal Centre until the end of the year.

1994 (2nd image)
Research team: Egyptologist Bob Brier of Long Island University and pathologist Ronald Wade of the University of Maryland Baltimore.
Preparation: Brier replicated scores of ancient mortuary tools using authentic materials and designs, and gathered embalming materials - including 400lbs of natron - from the same sources the ancients would have used.
Body Donor: A 76-year-old white male who died of a heart attack.
Procedure: The body was opened with an obsidian knife and the organs (except for the heart) were removed after which the cavity was washed with palm wine and myrrh, and packed with linen bundles containing natron and spices. The brain was removed with a hook used to liquify it and pour/pull it through the nostrils. The body was placed on a natron-covered embalming board and more of the natron was heaped on top of it. It was kept in a drying room at 104 degrees and 30% humidity for 35 days, wrapped with a preliminary layer of linen, and allowed to dry for the next 3 months. The fully dehydrated mummy was then wrapped with several layers of muslin. (Watch Brier's lecture about the experiment here and read about it in my book Modern Mummies.)
Aim: To decrypt the long-lost Egyptian mummification procedure. As Brier put it, “When I started going to Egypt, I realized that nobody really knew how mummification took place. Nobody was talking about it. So that’s how I realized that you really have to do a mummification to figure it out.” Specifically, he wanted know how much natron and how long a time mummification took.
Results: Brier and Wade confirmed that the initial drying period of 35-40 days preceded the positioning of the mummy, and that the 3-month drying period that followed completed the mummification. The embalming board they had built, based on ancient Egyptian depictions, showed by its style and width that natron was used in its dry state, not in a liquid bath. They also clarified a number of things about the make-up of the tools and how they were used.
Curation: The mummy is now on permanent loan to the San Diego Museum of Man.

I am going to check with Dr. Brier, Dr. Wade, and my Egyptologist friend Dr. Jasmine Day to make sure I am not missing something here, and I will report back!

UPDATE: When I contacted them about this, Ronn Wade expressed surprise and Bob Brier said, "You got it right!" I then heard from Dr. Buckley, who explains that the claim "to have mummified the 1st body in 3,000 years in the style of the Egyptian pharaohs" was not made by his team, but instead were words put in his mouth by the Associated Press. While it may make for a head-turning headline, he insists it misrepresents the point of his research completely. In fact, his experiment complements that of Dr. Brier, with whom he has been in occasional contact, and to suggest that he was unaware of the 1994 mummification is "ludicrous!" While the earlier procedure advanced our understanding of how the art of ancient Egyptian embalming was carried out, Dr. Buckley's research overturns our current understanding of mummification procedures when they were at their height - specifically among the royal burials in the 18th Dynasty. Buckley focuses on the use of the organics as crucial where a solution or dry natron is used when there is any degree of quality involved. He appreciates the opportunity to set the record straight and will soon offer more detail in a scientific publication. The television documentary that aired in the U.K. will be broadcast in the U.S. soon and clarifies the significance of Buckley's research.

I also heard back from Dr. Day, who writes, "You are totally right on your blog about Brier and Wade's mummy 'Mumab' being the first person to be authentically mummified in the Egyptian style in modern times....It doesn't surprise me at all that Stephen Buckley (whom I met at the Mummy Congress in 2007) did not make the claim to have made the first modern Egyptian mummy, but had the words put in his mouth by the media. What journalists don't know about mummies would fill volumes...that's how the legend of the curse snowballed!"


  1. Hi Chris,

    My money is on you. I was kind of scratching my head too, when I saw the Good Cabbie listed as the first person to be mummified "Egyptian-style" in 3,000 years. Mumab has them beat by sixteen years.. That's old enough for a driver's permit!

    Good catch!


  2. I agree and posted the Buckley case on my facebook page too having found it posted by Eleanor Crook the sculptor.....a much better effort all round in my humble opinion! I wasn't terribly keen on the channel 4 film......


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