What Is the Mummification Process?

Mummification is the process by which soft tissues, such as skin and other organs of a body, are preserved after death. Human action or the surrounding environment may prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi on a corpse, halting the process of decay.

Sub-freezing, oxygen-free or extremely dry environments can create natural mummies, as these conditions are well suited to prevent bodies from decomposing. Artificial mummification is called embalming and has been a part of human society since as early as 5000 B.C. While mummies are most closely associated with the ancient Egyptians, many other cultures around the world also embalmed their dead as part of their funeral traditions, including the Inca and the people of the Aleutian Islands.

Embalming methods varied from culture to culture and often developed into a complex ritual that carried religious and societal significance. An Egyptian embalming could take up to seventy days, during which the embalmers would remove most of the internal organs, rinse the body with wine to kill bacteria and dry the body, before adding padding and makeup to restore the body to a more lifelike appearance.

Modern embalming techniques use surgery to remove bodily fluids and replace them with formaldehyde-based chemical solutions that help preserve the body.