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Image Gallery: Mummy Evisceration Techniques

Egyptian evisceration

An egyptian mummy in its sarcophagus

(Image credit: Cindy Ann Dockrill | Shutterstock.com)

A systematic analysis of ancient Egyptian mummy evisceration has found that historical descriptions of the techniques may have been off-base

Trade secret

egyptian mummies, face reconstructions mummies, mummy, mummy images

(Image credit: Nicolas Morin, McGill University)

In ancient Egypt, embalmers had guild-like organizations and their tricks of the trade were closely guarded secrets.

Father of history

Statue of Herodotus head from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Image credit: Gift of George F. Baker, 1891, Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011))

But in the fifth century B.C., ancient Greek historian Herodotus managed to get an inside peek at the industry and described the techniques used to eviscerate the dead.

Organ removal

An Egyptian pharaoh mummy found in a tomb

(Image credit: Mikhail Zahranichny | Shutterstock.com)

In his histories, he says that the highest classes were the only ones eviscerated with a trans-abdominal slit, and that the brain was always removed. Other accounts suggested the heart was always removed.

Cedar oil enema?

sarcophagus of ancient egyptian pharaoh

(Image credit: General Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire: The Royal Mummies Le Caire, 1912, public domain)

The lower classes, he said, received a cedar oil enema to eat away their internal organs.

Thorough analysis

A male mummy is CT scanned

(Image credit: Nicolas Morin)

But researchers Andrew Wade and Andrew Nelson wanted to see whether Herodotus accounts matched practices we actually see in mummies. They analyzed mummies described in the literature, and performed CT scanning on several others. Here, a Theban male mummy from the Redpath museum gets scanned.

Varied techniques

A mummy gets its empty chest cavity reconstructed via CT scan

(Image credit: Andrew Wade)

They found that contrary to Herodotus' accounts, the upper and lower classes alike tended to get the trans-abdominal slit, with a cut through the anus restricted to elites.

Mummy skeleton

A 3D reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy skeleton

(Image credit: Andrew Wade)

Mummies didn't show evidence of cedar oil enemas. In addition, the mummies didn't always have their hearts left in place and their brains removed. Here, a 3D reconstruction of a mummy, with an oval indicating the incision site.

Tia Ghose

Tia is the assistant managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.