While the term ‘mummification’ may bring up thoughts of Ancient Egypt, ’embalming’ feels like a more contemporary term and a process that is still used today. However, embalming is merely one step of the mummification process that involves the deliberate preservation of a body to forestall decomposition for any period of time. While it is not believed that any modern peoples are still using the full mummification process to protect the bodies of those they have lost, embalming is still a widely-used practice at funeral homes.
Egyptians are widely known as the masters of the complicated process of mummification, a process that took upwards of 70 days from removal of internal organs to the final restorative beautification. Starting around 3,000 BC, professional mummers would treat bodies with natural salts to remove all the damaging liquids from the body before coating it in warm resin and eventually with over 150 yards of linen strips applied in layers. Oddly enough, while Egyptians are thought to be the originators of the mummification process, it was actually the early South Americans who began the embalming and mummification process around 5,000 BC–2,000 years before Ancient Egyptians!
Modern embalming is generally thought to have started during the Civil War period and was encouraged by President Lincoln as a way to allow lost soldiers to be returned to their hometowns for a proper burial. Embalming today is undertaken less for a desire of long-term preservation of the body than for the ability to allow a few extra days for friends and family to gather to celebrate the life of the deceased. The discovery of formaldehyde allowed for a relatively quick method of disinfecting and preserving the human body from decomposition.
While few topics around death are comfortable, it can be helpful to understand the basis and reasoning behind why specific steps are taken in the process. While embalming may feel like a medieval process to some, it is also a procedure that is meant to allow family and friends to view the body after passing. If you have questions about embalming or any other aspects of memorials or funeral planning, contact our 24-hour answer line at 1-866-684-1951 or visit Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery during normal working hours.