Make your own free website on Tripod.com
How To Mummify Your Cat
Chemistry

HOME

Chemistry | FMI | Contact Us | Sources

mmmm... Mummy chemicals.


   Embalming requires lots of exciting chemistry!  Originating in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamian civilizations, mummification served as a method to preserve corpses, in an effort to save the body for the afterlife.  Recent studies have proved that this task is not as simple as it is made out to be, but rather is quite sophisticated.  Ancient undertakers used a wide array of oils, waxes and fats for preservation.  These oils, also known as drying oils begin as a liquid paste and later self-polymerize into a hard shell.  To fight off bacterial decay, plant resins are used because of their antibacterial qualities.  These preservatives were replaced with beeswax, because it is both a wax and a natural antibacterial agent. 

 Processes of mummification:

1. The removal of the brain, as well as all of the other internal organs (minus the heart).  These organs are each placed in different sealed jars beside the body.

2. To dry out the body, Ancient Egyptians used natron, a natural salt mined in Egypt.  This is packed into the body in small bags and spread over the body, and draws out water and liquid, leaving the body stiff and shrunken.

3. The bodies would be stuffed with anything from sawdust to onions to maintain the form.

4. The body is then washed and massaged with fragrant oils, some examples are cedar and cumin oil.

5. The embalming agent, plant resin or beeswax in more recent history, blocks moisture from getting in.

6. Cover the body in linen or cloth, materials that do not easily decompose.

The salts used, mostly the sands of the desert at the time, scientifically named natron are a heterogeneous mixture of NaCl, Na2CO3, NaHCO3, and Na2SO4 (Mostly NaCl).  Now here comes the real technical stuff.  Natron has an alkaline pH and therefore serves as a catalyst in the breakdown of fats into fatty acids and glycerol.  Fatty acids are long hydrocarbon chains with a carboxyl group.  These fatty acids can form salts by reacting with sodium bicarbonate.  Since both salts and glycerol are soluble in water, the washing of the body removes them both.  Without these, bacteria lose an energy source and do not decay the body as quickly.
 The organic oils and resins used in preservation are made up of fatty acids, n-alkanes, waxy esters, and sterols (among some other compounds). Most of these compounds are natural polymers that spontaneously react, preserving tissue.  Polymerization occurs when two or more monomers react to form a polymer, a more complex compound that in this case is a shell like solid that detracts water.

 Modern methods borrow from the ancient tradition, although many people find mummifying people, or animals rather, inappropriate.  But nobody cares what they think.  The inner organs are removed, thoroughly cleansed, and then placed back inside the body.  The animal is then dunked in a special embalming fluid similar to the organic oils and resins of ancient times, and some compounds that are used in genetic engineering.  Instead of using beeswax, polyurethane is used to coat the wrapped body to prevent moisture from getting in.  Resin and a layer of fiberglass surrounds the gauze, and amber resin surrounds this to ensure bacteria do not live and start decaying your pet.  Those evil bacteria. The entire product, dead animal and his new clothes, are placed inside a bronze or stainless steel case (in the shape of the animal of course) so nobody decides to play kickball with him. Or her.

chemdiagram.jpg