Great Courses, Bob Brier, tweets composed and sent while dog-walking. AI screwups corrected in brackets
For continuity, start with Part 1:
Lecture 27: What mummies tell us
“A mummy is a mummy is a mummy” to most people, Bob Brier says, but all cars are not alike—neither are mummies. They made them over thousands of years. They differ.
Early mummies of the First Kingdom aren’t very good. Bodies are encased as with statues, but not preserved. X-rays reveal they have fallen apart, bones lying at the bottom.
Hetepheres, wife of “my man Sneferu” is an exception—with internal organs that had been removed.
Great story of high-quality artifacts suddenly appearing on the antiquities market in the 1870s, so authorities figured tomb robbers had made a massive find (steal) and, sure enough, found the culprits and (eventually) tortured the location out of them.
A huge trove of mummies, the grave robbers had found. Mummies spanning many dynasties. Shipped off to the Cairo museum, where researchers learned much about mummymaking—what innovations had been made at what time periods.
One other cache of mummies found later, the tomb of Amenhotep II. That’s where Bob Brier discovered that the king had bad teeth, maybe he needed a coregent because he was incapacitated.
All Egyptians had bad teeth, on account of the sand from the grindstones that found its way into its bread.
Lecture 28: Making a modern mummy:
Cool! Bob makes his own mummy. Only he doesn’t identify the person. This reminds me of when my wife took anatomy for nursing. These bodies are donated for research, she was told. They might be someone you know. They were to be treated respectfully.
He says he did it not to make a mummy but to learn how it was done. Lots of unanswered questions after reviewing the papyri. Only way to answer them was to do one, he said.
For example, the brain coming out the nose? Bob thought you could just pull it out with a hooked instrument, but no—it is too viscous. Can’t be done that way. Instead, they—(are you sure you want to know this?)—are swished around up there further, making it more liquid, then inverted the body so as to pour it out through the nostrils.
They made bronze tools. I guess I should have known this, but didn’t. Bronze, a hard metal, results form the mix of two soft ones—tin and copper. But the knife made was not very good.
The “sharp Ethiopian stone” (obsidian) worked well for a knife. Bob says modern surgeons have gone that way—using obsidian.
They used natron (basically salt and baking soda) to preserve. (It takes 600 pounds of the stuff) Bought the frankincense and myrrh from local sites.
Now they have a control sample—they know what they did. They know what works and what doesn’t. It will help with the analysis of ancient mummies.
Herodotus’s 35 day period they figured out (too late) is the time the body has to sit after being dried with natron. It is not completely dry by then, you can still cross the hands in royal style, but Bob & crew had waited too long. They had to wrap with arms at sides.
There’s not a lot of mummies in this neck of the woods. I don’t have any original photos. The best I can do is this one of Tauchannock Man in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
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