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Preservation of the necrotic, or the dead, has been an important and fascinating part of death in human history and continues to fascinate people of all ages in the modern world. Embalming is defined as the process of treating and/or preserving a corpse in such a way that prevents or delays decomposition. It is practiced widely throughout the world. There are many methods and reasons for performing embalming. And the ancient and modern significance is great. Embalming originated in Egypt over 5,000 years ago (Mendelson 337). It was portrayed not only as a beneficial and profitable science, but also as a delicate art (Good Embalming Makes the Difference). It was first recorded by a visiting Greek historian by the name of Herodotus (Embalming 101). Ancient Egyptians believed if a body could remain preserved the ba, or wandering soul could continue to live within it (White 81). Egyptian mummifications have long been topics of fascination to science and superstition. Its process is very complex. It was broken up into three parts: Organ removal, drying the body, and wrapping the body (Embalming 101). All organs were removed except the heart. Egyptians believed the heart was the center of the body and all its potential, so the brain, thought to be useless was discarded. A bronze hook or rod would be placed up the nostril and through the ethmoid bone in the cranium (Embalming 101). The brain was " stirred" and mashed into a liquid state and it would drip easily out the nostrils and thrown out (Mummies: The Real Story). The head was then stuffed with resin or sawdust. The other organs---stomach, liver, lungs and intestines---were also removed and dipped in natron and wrapped, and placed in Canopic jars bearing the heads of the four sons of Horus (Emablming 101). The body was then dried with natron. It took at least 70 days since human beings are 70% water. It had to be done just right, for if the body is left too long in the natron, it will deteriorate anyway. While the mummy was dried out, it was set on a couch at an angle so the liquid could drip into a pan. The Theban necropolis, City of the Dead, show stains from smoke on the walls, though, if not a method of mummification, were set by looters (Embalming 101). Lastly, the body was anointed with oils to make the skin smooth and smelled good. Remaining cavities on the mummy were filled with spices, herbs and sawdust to make the body more lifelike. It was then wrapped in linen bandages, 2-8 inches wide and sixteen yard long. The smaller body parts, such as fingers and toes were wrapped first, working its way up to the larger parts. It took fifteen days to wrap one adult mummy and consisted of 1,010 square yards of linen. While it was being wrapped amulets and charms were placed in the wrappings and secured with tree resin to protect the dead. On a spiritual level, the priests performing the embalming would often chant prayers, and even dress up as Anubis, their jackal-headed god of embalming to ensure he'd lead the deceased to a fair trial of the heart and allow him/her a joyous afterlife (White 141). However, Egyptians weren't the only peoples to use advanced methods of embalming. Ancient Peruvians had an equally amazing method of preserving their dead. They would burn their embalmed over low fires while Tibetans would bury a body in salt-filled box for three months ( Britannica 736).

There are also different types and methods of embalming, not just mummification. It was usually the geography, topography and social system which determined what method of embalming should be used ( Britannica 737). Some methods included burial. There are two types of this: the water burial and the earthly burial. An Earthly burial was considered most simple. A hollow trench was dug into the ground where the deceased would lie for the rest of eternity. These graves were sometimes deep and sometimes simple shallow pits. Some burials took place in caves, a Hebrew custom (Britannica 738). Water burials were considered a link to mythological methods of immortality ( Britannica 738). The bodies of heroes and chiefs were set adrift in a lake or ocean or set off on death ships. This was a very popular Norse custom. Both genders could obtain the honor of a water burial and it was considered favorable. Another method of embalming is cremation. Cremation has its own history and background.

Cremation is the practice of reducing the body to ashes by burning it on open fires ( Britannica 740). It was practiced by the Greeks as early as 1000 BC. Corpses were originally cremated on the battlefields, where the ashes were soon gathered and sent to families in the homeland. It was considered a perfect end to an epic life of valour ( Britannica 740). The Romans, as with religion, followed the Greeks in this method. The ritualistic method of cremation in the ancient times was that the body would be placed on a pyre covered with leaves, and personal belongings of the deceased. It was then set ablaze. This method was abolished by the rising Christian religion, trying to separate themselves from the " old ways ( Britannica 740)." Other reasons for its decline was the shortage of wood supplies since so many pyres had to be built. Modern cremations are of a different nature. Instead of the open fire, the necrotic is placed in a chamber where it will be incinerated. The ashes are then given to the family to scatter them in a chosen place. Some also keep the ashes in an urn within their homes. The United States began reintroduced cremation after the surgeon of Queen Victoria, Sir Henry Thompson published his book Cremation: The Treatment of the Body After Death ( Britannica 740). A Cremation Society was also erected. The surprising result is the great number of supporters it received. Physicians were becoming very uncomfortable with cemeteries, believing it was poisonous to both men and animals (Britannica 740). Its only obstacle in the modern world is the personal belief of the family and individual.

Exposure is a less popular method and is hardly considered by the modern world to be an effective method of embalming. It is performed by placing a body in any area where it may be eaten by scavengers and birds or weathered to dirt. To some cultures, this is considered the most desirable and spiritual method. The group most widely known to use this method were the Zoroastrians. They believed the corpse to be an unclean object; to cremate or bury it would contaminate the " pure elements" of earth, fire and water ( Britannica 738). In most cases, it is an unpopular method and not recognized as an effective embalming method.

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 739).

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 (Buried Alive).

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 (Good Embalming).

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 life.


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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.

Necrotic: Dead.

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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