The embalming process dates back to the ancient Egyptian period when human bodies were preserved for ages after death. The process, commonly known as mummification was believed to empower the soul, which would return to the corpse, preserved through embalming. In classical antiquity, preservation of human remains would forestall decomposition of the dead. Today, embalming techniques have been modified with the latest methodologies aimed at preservation and sanitization of the corpse for a presentable appearance.
Modern embalming techniques are sophisticated, being developed after continuous research and trial and error. In cases of delayed funerals, embalmers or morticians restore the body to prevent the spread of diseases. The artistry needs extreme practice and precision to accomplish the desired motive. The details of the process of embalming will be presented below.
The Egyptian Embalming Process
Mummies were considered intensely sacred as they believed that the magic spells showered into the dead bodies preserved not only the soul but also provided a place for the soul to rest. They had faith in afterlife and the entire process was performed by embalmers and priests amid rituals and prayers. They employed a wide range of tools to perform the mummification process. Bronze hooks, needles, awls, knives and tweezers were used to carry out the various processes on the corpse. The dead body was kept inside a purification tent known as ‘ibu’. The body was washed with palm wine and then rinsed with water from the river Nile. It was then placed on a slanting table to drain the blood and remove the internal organs, except the heart and the lungs. These organs were then washed and packed in a natron for drying. The heart was considered the center of intelligence and emotions, therefore, it was preserved inside. The brain was smashed with the help of a long hook and was then pulled out through the nose.
The body was dehydrated after stuffing and then covered with a natron. After forty days, it was washed once again with water from the river Nile and then covered with embalming oils to retain the elasticity of the skin. The dehydrated internal organs were either preserved in hollow canopic jars or were returned to the body. The entire body was covered with leaves and sawdust. It was sprayed with good smelling oils before the final wrap with linen. This way the dehydrated body was mummified and treasured for ages. Once the mummification steps were over, the Egyptians placed amulets and sacred pieces along with the body to symbolize holiness and sanctity.
The Modern Embalming Process
The modern embalming process differs from the technique followed by the Egyptians. Embalming dead bodies require knowledge in different disciplines like pathology, chemistry, anatomy, microbiology and chemistry. A sound knowledge and expertise is needed in advanced fields of cosmetology and restorative art since the procedure demands time and skill, both. The embalmer is supposed to follow the standard guidelines on the deceased. The body needs to be properly prepared prior to the embalming process and then the surgical techniques are applied. The process primarily aims at disinfecting the body and then preserving it. Sometimes, families prefer to restore the dead for a certain period in order to pacify their grief and then perform the funeral accordingly. The latest techniques for embalming shall be elaborated below.
The Embalming Process – Steps
The process of embalming involves preparation of the body, removal of organs, washing, disinfecting, dressing and then casketing. The content below shall let you know the basic process of embalming.
- The dead body is placed on an embalming table to remove the clothes, jewelries, accessories or any medical paraphernalia. Sometimes a modesty cloth is wrapped over the private parts of the body.
- The body and its parts are then cleansed with a strong disinfectant to restore hygiene.
- After death the muscle stiffens (rigor mortis) and has to be loosened. The muscles around the joints are massaged to relieve off the tension.
- The body is then positioned and ‘feature setting’ is done to render a visibly decent appearance. The legs are straightened, the eyes and mouth are shut with the help of suture string or by placing a cotton. A resin like compound known as ‘mastic compound’ acts as a caulk to close the mouth.
- An embalming machine is employed that injects the embalming fluid into veins (brachial, jugular or femoral) and simultaneously forcing out blood, fluids and gases. The machine injects formaldehyde inside the body.
- All the major organs of the torso is punctured with a trocar. The hydro-aspirator is inserted two inches above the belly button and then the cavity and the hollow organs are filled with chemicals containing formaldehyde solution.
- The body is then washed with a disinfectant and a special germicidal soap before performing the next steps.
- The incisions are then sealed by stitching and through application of a liquid adhesive. The cuts are further wrapped with elastic to prevent leakage of the fluid.
- The body is redressed for viewing. Clothes, jewelries, accessories, cosmetics, beauty oils and creams are applied to make it presentable. Mortuary cosmetics are sometimes applied by the embalmers before funeral.
The embalming process requires a couple of days for successful completion. The West has partaken this body preservation method from the Egyptians, although the techniques are improvised, the motive remains the same.