A group of scientists have just busted a millennia-old myth about how the ancient Egyptians made their mummies. It turns out that nobody had to take burning cedar oil enemas after all.
Greek historian Herodotus wrote back in the 5th century BCE that there were class distinctions when it came to mummification. He claimed that the rich were treated to a surgical removal of their guts, through a slit in their stomachs. But the poor were given a cedar oil enema that burned their guts out. (All of this took place after the people in question were corpses.)
But now a new study of over 150 mummies has revealed that Herodutus was not a very reliable reporter. It turns out that none of the mummies had had cedar oil enemas.
Over at Scientific American, Tia Ghose writes:
To see how eviscerations really took place, [University of Western Ontario anthropologist Andrew] Wade and his colleague Andrew Nelson looked through the literature, finding details on how 150 mummies were embalmed over thousands of years in ancient Egypt. They also conducted CT scans and 3D reconstructions on seven mummies. [see image above]
The team found that rich and poor alike most commonly had the transabdominal slit performed, although for the elites evisceration was sometimes performed through a slit through the anus.
In addition, there wasn't much indication that cedar oil enemas were used.
In addition, it turned out Herodutus misrepresented a few other details, too. He claimed that most people's hearts were left intact in their bodies after mummification, but their brains were removed. Wade and colleagues found few hearts, though the ones they did find were from later in Egyptian history and were all middle class people. They also found brains in fully a fifth of the bodies. Ultimately, their work reveals that mummification was a varied process. There was no one single recipe, but instead a lot of different ways to be mummified in various regions and times.