Thursday, December 18, 2008

Egyptian mummies as commodities

Suite 101 (Jenn Ostrowski)

From medicine to entertainment, many ancient Egyptians did not get the peace they sought after death despite their efforts to preserve their dead.

Ancient Egyptians believed that after death their souls would survive, and that those souls would reanimate their bodies. This led to the need to preserve the deceased for the afterlife, but it’s doubtful the Egyptians ever fathomed the many other uses for their mummies.
Mummies as Medicine

Shipped across the Mediterranean Sea to apothecaries in large quantities, mummies were incorrectly assumed by Europeans to be embalmed with a type of bitumen (a black tar-like substance) believed to have healing properties in Asian tradition. Most mummies, in fact, were not coated with bitumen but dark resins, which lent to the dark tone of a mummy’s skin.

From the 1100s until opinions changed in the 1700s, powdered or chopped up pieces of a mummy were considered a cure for many different health problems, including diseases, poisoning, open wounds, and even broken bones. Mixed with other ingredients or used straight, mummy medicine became a popular drug in the West. King Francis I of France even took powdered mummy with rhubarb daily.

When Egyptian mummies became hard to acquire, a new market for the dearly departed opened up. Merchants substituted the corpses of slaves and others, “embalming” the bodies themselves and marketing them as genuine mummies.

See the above page for more uses of ancient Egyptian mummies. These stories never cease to make my hair stand on end.

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