Cannibalism is another embalming method not often recognized by modern
society. It is a ritualistic method, or anthropophagi, that involves the consumption of
human flesh of slain enemies to obtain the strength and virtues of that person. It
was practiced by certain Eskimo tribes and Australians and some Central African
peoples ( Britannica 738). The modern practice is the act of eating the flesh of a
deceased relative. It has been, if not still in practice in Central African areas so that
family members may no longer feel distraught at the loss of a loved one (Britannica
Embalming, and all its interesting methods had a time of great decline. Most
of it was of religious matter. When Christianity slowly became the dominant
religion, the worshipers began to stray from the traditional methods of embalming
and employed mass graves and catacombs in their stead ( Britannica 736). Early
Christians had little concern on the appearance of the deceased, since all that
mattered was the soul. These methods were also employed to stray away from what,
at the time, they believed to be Pagan and/or impure methods ( Britannica 736).
Embalming did not die completely however. Throughout the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance, there were modest amounts of embalming, mostly following the
Egyptian style, which occurred. Its return in Europe was official in the 12th century
in France and England under the rule of King Henry I. The number of the
embalmed was not very great, as the cost of the privilege was very high. Skilled
embalmers were free to charge what they wished for a professional preservation
(Britannica 736). As the years rolled on, embalming became a more popular method
once again. Bodies within mass graves, which were not properly treated, would
release gases as they decayed, making the area poisonous to some degree to the
living that happened to come in contact with it. Romans also began to consider their
cemeteries hazardous and moved them outside of the city ( Britannica 739).
Throughout time, another reason came about. People of all ages and stature
had a tendency to wake up from " death" only to find themselves entombed in their
coffins (Buried Alive). This became the greatest fear in many areas, including early
America. Tales recall a man whose wife would fall into a death-like state. Three
times she had been carried out in a coffin, only to wake up at the foot of the stairs.
In most cases, being buried alive meant one had to witness their own death, for it
was rare that they could be heard (Death in Early America). Another story is that of
a young girl, believed to be dead. She had a funeral and was buried. Not too long
after, a man walking in the cemetery heard her screams and dug up the grave,
saving the child's life. Not all victims of this unintentional torture were so lucky
Another, more basic reason for the reinstitution of embalming is so the
friends and family of the deceased may gather and view the body at a wake, or
funeral procession. The modern embalming is not as complex as its ancient
counterparts. In this modern day, not everyone has to be embalmed after death; it is
based on the wishes of the necrotic, the family's wishes and the cause of death
(Collins). Ancient embalmings served to preserve the body forever where modern
embalmings are done simply to preserve long enough for the wake, or funeral
Most modern embalmings are performed arterial injection which was first
performed by Dutchman Fredrick Ruysch. This is when embalming fluid,
composed of formaldehyde, phenol and alcohol, is flushed through the veins. It is
broken up into three parts: disinfection, preservation, and restoration. Disinfection,
or pre-embalming as it is sometimes called, is the most important part of the
process. A corpse coming into the prep-room will probably emit a foul odor, so
proper ventilation, via masks etc., is required. The purpose for disinfecting is to rid
the body of bacterial buildup and deodorize it (Embalming). The entire body is
washed thoroughly with bacterial soap and dried. Then, all open wounds, if any, are
stitched up and the body is ready for the next step: preservation.
Preservation is the next important step. The mortician must take his/her time
doing this or swelling may occur in the face (Embalming). The embalming fluid is
gradually injected at low pressures into the artery and/or cranial cavities. If the chest
of the necrotic is sunken in, it can be remedied by a filler. The lungs are then
reaspired and the windpipe is corked (Embalming). It is wise for morticians to
check the body often for signs of bloating in the abdominal regions. If this occurs, it
is relieved, simply enough, by opening the anal cavity (Embalming).
Restoration is not as important as the other steps, but to a mourning family, it
may have personal value. With the help of cosmetics and plastic surgery, a corpse
can appear as though it is merely in a deep sleep rather than it had been taken by
death (Mendelsohn). The latter event, to preserve the body more effectively would
be to seal the coffin permanently, allowing no air to ventilate. This is not favorable
to the mourners who wish to pay in their last respects (Good Embalming).
Morticians follow even simple methods in performing facial cosmetics. Hair is
plucked from the nose and ears and rubbed with cotton. To prevent insects from
entering through the nose, the cotton may be damped in a type of liquid insecticide,
and small pieces of saturated cotton will be stuffed in the back of the nostrils out of
sight of the viewer in a process known as packing (Embalming).
The face, as a whole, is the focal point of the viewer at a wake. The mouth
must show a familiar expression to the family. The lips are sutured shut and waxed
thoroughly to cover the stitches. Wax may sometimes be substituted by super-glue
or catgut (Embalming). Wax should also be gently applied to the upper and lower
outer lip to prevent cracking or flaking (Embalming).
The tools used for embalming are an important part of the mortician's trade.
They are sanitized after each use and placed neatly on a table or tray. The
instruments used and waste stream audits have been found to have little or no risk
to public health or to break sanitation codes (Embalming Instruments). Some of
these instruments are familiar to the public, like the scalpel, suture needles, and
scissors. But, some instruments are unique and odd to the practice. The trocar, a
"nasty little device" is an instrument used for draining (Arnold). Most instruments
have basic names while some have misleading names. The bone separator is not
used for separating bones, but moving veins, but an instrument called the arm
positioner does exactly what it says (Arnold). Another important instrument used by
morticians is the embalming machine. It is a machine in which the embalming
fluids are mixed with a certain amount of water to be flushed through the body
(Collins). After the use of these interesting tools, the body is moved to a dressing
table to be cleaned and dressed.
The modern embalming can only be performed by one type of person, the
licensed mortician. Becoming a mortician takes a great deal of training. The
schooling requires a two-year pre-requisite as an apprentice or previous schooling.
The schooling then takes four years, which keeps a mortician in training for six
years. Basic science courses like chemistry, microbiology, anatomy and pathology
are taught every quarter a mortician is in training. Other classes are then required,
such as the art of embalming, embalming and law, restorative art, and mortuary
management (Collins). To be a mortician, " the greatest pre-requisite a person can
possess is high moral character (Collins).
It is plain to see that embalming, though a morbid subject has had a long and
interesting history. It has evolved over the centuries but the purpose is the same. A
method that may have originally taken up to forty days has been reduced to a
method that is performed in two to four hours. It is a method of preserving the
necrotic, and in some religious views, a way to ensure an afterlife. From the time
before the Pharaohs to the present day, embalming of the dead was and is a part of
Arm Positioners: Device used to hold and position the arms of a corpse while morticians work on it.
Bone Separater: Instrument used for moving veins aside so morticians can better view area to be worked on.
Cannibalism: the action of eating flesh of other human beings.
Canopic Jars: Jars which contained major body organs belonging to mummies. Contained intestines, stomache, lungs and liver.
Canulers: curved tweezers used for gripping tissue and moving it.
Cremation: Act of burning a corpse over a fire or incinerating it in a contained heating area into ashes.
Disinfection: Stage in embalming where morticians treat the body for bacteria and diseases.
Embalming: The art of disinfecting, preserving, and restoring the dead and delaying decomposition.
Embalming Machine:A machine used to mix several embalming fluids with a large amount of water for which to flush out the body.
Exposure: Act of leaving a corpse out to rot naturlaly where animals can eat it, or it will decompose in an open area.
Mortician: Modern practitioner who performs the embalming. Only licensed morticians are able to perform by law.
Mummification:Ancient Egyptian art of removing bodily organs. First form of embalming.
Mummy: a dead person who has undergone mummification.
Necropolis: City of the Dead. A large group of tombs close to each other.
Packing: Stuffing treated cotton up the nostrils and in the ears.
Prep-Room: Otherwise called Preperation or embalming Room. Area where the embalming takes place.
Preservation: Stage of embalming where morticians begin preserving the body.
Pyre: a stage or platform where a body is placed to be burned.
Reconstruction: Stage of embalming where morticians use cosmetic methods to recreate a figure similar to the mourners.
Scalpel: Instrument used for making incisions into the body.
Scissors: Instrument(s) used for cutting hair, veins, and nails.
Suture Needles: Needles used to suture up incisions and the mouth.
Trocar: Large needle-like instrument used for draining the body of embalming fluids and bodily fluids.
Wake: Another term for funeral or viewing of a preserved body.
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