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Mummifying Alan

 
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Sothis
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:06 pm    Post subject: Mummifying Alan Reply with quote

Has anyone seen the programme titled Mummifying Alan which was aired last night on UK`s Channel 4?
It shows the mummification of an English cab driver carried out by a team around Stephen Buckley and Jo Fletcher.
As my kids managed to cancel a great deal of the programme I could only watch it from the point on where the body is about to be put into a bath of natron solution.
That`s what puzzled me most, because AFAIK it is generally thought that in AE the body was covered in heaps of dry natron and not bathed in a solution.

Did they give an explanation as to why they chose to do so?

The result of this "mummification" was in my view not exactly what we see in the mummies of AE because Alan`s body still looked quite fat unlike the emaciated appearance of the "real mummies".

I remember that Bob Brier (aka Mr Mummy) mummified a human body some time ago using dry natron with the resulting mummy looking much more like a mummy from pharaonic times.

So why the natron bath?
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Daughter_Of_SETI
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2011 7:50 pm    Post subject: Re: Mummifying Alan Reply with quote

Sothis wrote:
Did they give an explanation as to why they chose to do so?

Yes. The mummies they were copying were those of the 18th dynasty, which is when they believe the mummification was at its best. They showed x-rays of mummies from this period, whereby they could see something deep inside the flesh that they believed to be salt crystals. I think they explained it as, salt crystals would've been on the surface of the mummy if it was simply covered in dry natron, so seeing as the salt crystals were deep in the tissue it must've been immersed in a bath of natron in water. They also showed x-rays of 19th dynasty mummies to see the difference where these had no salt crystals to be seen. When they x-rayed Alan after the mummification was finished he had what looked like similar crystals to the 18th dynasty mummies.
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Sothis
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the explanation, that was exactly what I had missed.
I had only caught that they found some crystals inside Alan`s body.

Was mummification really at its height during the 18th dynasty? I thought it was a bit later during the 19/20th dynasty with the well-preserved mummies of Seti I, Ramses II, III and others?

Anyway, it has been argued that not a single bathtub in which a mummy could have been placed has survived and in general bathtubs were unknown in AE until the Roman period.
When using dry natron the body would have been placed onto a wooden bed or frame a probable example of which has been recovered from KV63.
These were easily dismantled and discarded.

Besides, some mummies including Tut`s had distinctive white patches of natron left on their skin when discovered which I don`t think can result from a natron bath.

It might also be possible that crystals from dry natron penetrate the tissue and can later be found inside the body.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sothis wrote:
Was mummification really at its height during the 18th dynasty? I thought it was a bit later during the 19/20th dynasty with the well-preserved mummies of Seti I, Ramses II, III and others?

It's strange because I was under the same impression as you. Idea

Sothis wrote:
Anyway, it has been argued that not a single bathtub in which a mummy could have been placed has survived and in general bathtubs were unknown in AE until the Roman period...Besides, some mummies including Tut`s had distinctive white patches of natron left on their skin when discovered which I don`t think can result from a natron bath.

Not only is there no bathtub known, but when they immersed Alan into the "salt" water they had to wear protective gear so the natron didn't burn their skin, so I have no idea how ancient mummifiers would've prevented themselves getting burnt. Alan was covered in beeswax and resin to stop it damaging his skin whilst he was in the water, and even he got some burns...they were white patches on his stomach.
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neseret
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2011 2:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sothis wrote:
Was mummification really at its height during the 18th dynasty? I thought it was a bit later during the 19/20th dynasty with the well-preserved mummies of Seti I, Ramses II, III and others?


As I recall (Ikram and Dodson's 1999 work on mummification is what you need to read), the 19th Dynasty style of mummification is renown for its ability to render the body back to its lifelike proportions, by stuffing the trunk, limbs, and face with various materials such as linen rolls, sawdust, and even small items like peppercorns (which can be found in the nostrils of the mummy of Ramses II, for example). While the 18th Dynasty may have founded the "liquid natron bath" as a means of dessicating/curing the body, the 19th Dynasty is called the period of the "...perfection of the craft" of mummification, this is not to mean that previous dynasties were not know for advances in the art.

Sothis wrote:
Besides, some mummies including Tut`s had distinctive white patches of natron left on their skin when discovered which I don`t think can result from a natron bath.


I disagree: even the Alan mummy showed signs of white patches on the surface of the skin from my viewing of the programme, which shows only that certain levels of natron were strongly absorbed. This could be because of levels of decomposition differ across the body and so the body appears more "bleached" than other sections of the body.

Further, some of what you see as "natron patches" on Tutankhmun may in face be resin burns, for the body was oversoaked in resins (there is discussion of this in Ikram and Dodson, as well as in Carter's book on the excavation). Part of Tutankhamun's poor condition as a mummy is due to the overuse of resins on his body.

HTH.
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Sothis
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 04, 2011 5:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Really, I didn`t know that the great Ramses has pepper in his nose.
That is about the last thing I would want to have in my nose even when I`m dead.
For Ramses` entourage it could have been the ultimate test to find out if he was really dead (something they may have had a hard time to believe), sort of "if that doesn`t make him sneeze then he is really dead".

Ok, no telling off, of course I`m kidding.

I still find this natron bath suspicious. Whenever I see Salima Ikram mummifying something on TV she uses a heap of dry natron.

But I`ll try to get hold of her book.
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anneke
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 05, 2011 3:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I must be tired. The one thing that keeps popping into my head here is the line from Monty Python: "I'm not dead yet!"
I hope Alan was not heard muttering that under his breath ...
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nicky_too
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 07, 2011 6:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just watched the documentary last night and I had this conversation in mind. I paid some extra attention to the issues mentioned here.

Sothis wrote:
The result of this "mummification" was in my view not exactly what we see in the mummies of AE because Alan`s body still looked quite fat unlike the emaciated appearance of the "real mummies".


He still looked quite fat because he's a very fresh mummy. They filled his body up with bags of linen after they removed the internal organs. They actually said they wanted to preserve his 'normal' look. I'm not surprised 'real' mummies look emaciated: they're thousands of years old!

At the end you could already see on the MRI scans that Alan was 'losing weight', so to speak. Just imagine what he will look like in 3,500 years.
The idea that I got was that the process was basically not finished. They managed to stop (or slow down) the decaying of the body, but the effect the whole process has on the body carries on after the body being wrapped.

Daughter_Of_SETI wrote:
When they x-rayed Alan after the mummification was finished he had what looked like similar crystals to the 18th dynasty mummies.


Actually, no. (sorry to be stubborn)
The crystals they believe to be there were too small to be seen on the scans. They believe the crystalisation is taking place however because of the way the underlayer of skin looks.
They will keep Alan under observation to see if these crystals will form in time.

Daughter_Of_SETI wrote:
Not only is there no bathtub known, but when they immersed Alan into the "salt" water they had to wear protective gear so the natron didn't burn their skin, so I have no idea how ancient mummifiers would've prevented themselves getting burnt. Alan was covered in beeswax and resin to stop it damaging his skin whilst he was in the water, and even he got some burns...they were white patches on his stomach.


They could have used a 'system' to lower/raise the body into/from the bath (I'm thinking wooden slab with ropes attached or something alike).
However I am also wondering if the ingredients used in the experiment were exactly as those used by the ancient Egyptians. After all, this was an experiment and I imagine they'd have to do quite a few more before they can be certain.

As far as the white patches are concerned, this was explained. The linen constraints used to keep Alan down in the water had rubbed away some of the resin they had applied to protect his body. With the protection gone...well, simple really. Wink

I wonder how they know for certain the white spots they saw in the 18th Dynasty mummies are salt crystals. Can you tell from an MRI scan or X-ray?

And what do we all think about the fact they left the brain in?

All in all, I thought it was absolutely fascinating. I do think they still have a long way to go, but the result was impressive.
Oh, and I agree with you all that I much prefer the 19th Dynasty mummies.
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Sothis
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 16, 2011 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just wanted to add a quick word on the dry natron vs. natron bath question:
I went through Salima Ikram`s " Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt", 2003,
in which she gives detailed descriptions of the various mummification techniques used during the pharaonic period.
Although many features of mummification were subject to changes according to the time period -for example first the internal organs were not removed, then they were removed and stored in jars, later still they were placed back into the body, or the removal of the brain which was practised at times and at others it wasn`t - she never mentions the supposed use of natron in liquid form for any period.
Instead she states that the body was imbedded in a heap of dry natron which had to be exchanged every time it was soaked with body fluids. This is quite feasible and she is certainly very experienced since she has done a good deal of mummifications if not of humans but of animals.

The only reference to natron in liquid form in this book is to the viscera of Queen Hetepheres which were found stored in a container with a weak solution of natron in water. Unfortunately her body was not discovered.
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