How Does Mummification Work?

How do you make a mummy, and why did we make mummies in the first place?

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The public has been fascinated by mummies since the 1900's, when their unwrapping was performed as public performances. Although the mummy is generally associated with ancient Egyptian culture, the oldest mummified human bodies are from the Chinchurro culture in South America and date back nearly 2,000 years before the Egyptians. These bodies were stripped of all their soft tissues, their skin was stuffed with vegetable matter, and the whole body was covered in clay. However, after thousands of years of preservation, these ancient mummies are in danger from -- of all things -- climate change. The bodies have remained preserved because they've kept in a part of Chile that's been notoriously dry for hundreds of years. An increase in moisture in the air, perhaps due to changes in the climate, has been making the mummies' skin a breeding ground for bacteria, causing some of them to degrade.

Lots of other ancient cultures have mummified bodies. Mummies have been found in the Canary Islands, and Italian Monks in the 16th and 17th century embalmed fellow monks by drying their bodies on ceramic pipes. The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo hold over 8000 bodies, including some wealthy and famous people of the time. Perhaps most fascinating (and creepy), Buddhist Monks in China today still practice a form of self-mummification today. They live on a diet of nuts, seeds and water for 1,000 days. Then the monk buries himself alive in a small burial chamber and chants until he dies. Upon death, the chamber is sealed for three years. When opened, if the body was well-preserved, it would be places on shrines and worshipped.

Would you want your body mummified when you die, or do you find the process just too creepy? Let us know how you feel about mummification in the comments down below.

Learn More:
Mummy unwrapping brought Egyptology to the public (Science Daily)
"Public 'unwrappings' of real mummified human remains performed by both showmen and scientists heightened the fascination, but also helped develop the growing science of Egyptology, says a historian."

Saving Chilean mummies from climate change (Harvard)
"At least two thousand years before the ancient Egyptians began mummifying their pharaohs, a hunter-gatherer people called the Chinchorro living along the coast of modern-day Chile and Peru developed elaborate methods to mummify not just elites but all types of community members-men, women, children, and even unborn fetuses."