11 Gross Steps In The Disgusting Process of Mummifying A Dead Body

In case you’ve ever wondered how to make a mummy, get ready to find out - and possibly gag a little. For some, the word "mummy" conjures up images of linen wrapped, brainless creatures who return from the dead to curse those who dare disturb their slumber. But that's the stuff of Hollywood fantasy. When it comes to the facts on how to mummify a body, the real-life details are pretty disgusting.

Sometimes mummification occurs naturally. The mummies discovered in the peat bogs of northern Europe and preserved bodies found on glaciers come to mind. But there are other, exceptionally gross ways to make a mummy. The ancient Egyptians had some seriously disgusting mummification steps and they weren’t the only ones. The premise is essentially the same across many cultures: a dead body needs to be preserved in a somewhat recognizable human form.

Curious? Repulsed? Read on to discover some of the grossest ways to make a mummy.

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  • A Hook Is Inserted Through The Nose To Stir And Remove The Brain

    A Hook Is Inserted Through The Nose To Stir And Remove The Brain
    Photo: Emil Brugsch / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    As if removing a brain from a human body wasn’t gross enough, the ancient Egyptian mummification process required the brain to be pulled out through the nostrils. In order to prevent any disfigurement of the face, embalmers would have to carefully reach a hook up through the nasal passageway, poke it into the brain to break it up, and drag the bits of brain tissue back out through the nose.

  • The Organs Are Pulled Out Through The Abdomen

    Removal of all internal organs was a necessary evil in order to make a mummy. First, an incision needed to be made along the left side of the abdomen and anything that decayed rapidly was taken out. Specifically, the intestines, lungs, liver, and the stomach all had to be pulled out and cleaned separately.

  • The Organs Get Dried Out Like Jerky

    After the organs were harvested and washed, they were then packed in natron to dry out. Natron is a salt and baking soda mixture that absorbs fat and moisture. Usually, each organ was placed in its own box or canopic jar to be preserved separately. The heart was either left inside the body, or wrapped separately and replaced, because it was considered to hold a person’s essence and intelligence. The brain was considered useless and thrown out.

  • The Heart Is Left In Place

    While most organs were removed and preserved separately, ancient Egyptians paid extra attention to the heart. Oftentimes it was left in place - thought to be "the center of a person's being." It might also be removed, wrapped, and put back in the body. This special treatment was a sort of insurance policy for the afterlife, as the heart was said to be weighed against a feather to determine if a person would be admitted by Osiris.

  • The Body Is Dehydrated With Salt

    Much like the rest of the organs, the remainder of the body needs to be dried before wrapping. The embalmers had to remove any remaining moisture from the body. This was done by covering and packing it with natron salt. After approximately 40 days, the body was washed with water from the Nile and coated in oil to help keep some of the skin’s elasticity.

  • The Body Cavity Is Packed With Filler Items

    Once the organs were removed, the body cavity was cleaned out entirely, and the body was dried, any parts that were sunken in were filled with linen and other objects. Spices were also used occasionally like crushed myrrh and cassia.