Thursday, September 3, 2009

Swiss Anatomy Experts Mummify Human Leg

Originally published September 2, 2009 | Heritage Key | by Keith Payne

The following is an excerpt from Heritage Key, which chronicles a Swiss team's efforts to perfect the exact same mummification process the Egyptian's used thousands of years ago, to examine how much the mummification process degrades DNA, how tissue reacts during the process, and how ancient cultures tried to preserve their loved ones after death:

So far the Swiss team has met with mixed results. After 440lbs (60kg) of salt mixture and 80 days, magnetic resonance still shows signs of moisture within the tissue. Dr. Rühli had expected the process to take around 70 days, and plans to continue for another month. Sometime this winter the team will attempt to mummify another body part, this time accounting for the role heat plays in mummification.

The article states that the Swiss team is basing their salt mixture on "a mid-1990s United States study, which tried to determine the 'magic formula' used by ancient Egyptians to dry out bodies before burial," but the details of the U.S. study are not given.

If Emily Teeter were in charge of that U.S. team back in the 90s, there would have been detailed notes and documents of how they went about mummifying an entire body using ancient methods (no offense to that team, of course). What is the purpose of keeping information to yourself? There's no progress in that. And how do you know you're progressing or just repeating experiments needlessly without such references?

The following is a direct link to an article at the Journal of Turkish Weekly, which gives more details of the Swiss Mummy Project.


  1. Of course, we all know they are referring to Ronn Wade and Bob Brier's work in 1994. And why they would fail to mention that work blows my mind.

    Bob Brier is Mr. Mummy himself, I would think that if nothing else they would want to drop his name, maybe even get a comment from him. I understand that he is pretty approachable.

    And just for the sake of clarification, the US team did a great job of documenting their work, it was the article in Journ. of Turkish Weekly that failed to identify that the Swiss team is replicating Wade and Brier. They don't even give the date!

    But I appologize if I gave the impression that the American team had not provided sufficient detail. I should have worded that better in the Heritage Key posting. And for all I know the Swiss Team was forthcoming about the original American experiment. I suspect that if anything its the Turkish Journal wanting to play down the American contribution.

    People, people! Mummies and politics don't mix!


    Unfortunately, politics and Egyptology have always been mixed, and its scholarship that loses out.


  2. Thanks for the clarification Keith! I really appreciate it.

    Just the mention of Mr. Brier gives me inspiration to do some more writing ;)

    That would be amazing to meet him. Sadly, as approachable as he may be (I did work up the courage to talk with Emily Teeter about iconographic elements in the Meresamun exhibit), I'd still have a hard time initiating a conversation because I'm very shy, especially since I've read his books (but I'm great with e-mails lol).