Why did people start eating Egyptian mummies? The alarming European history of eating corpses as medicine Science and ecology D.V.

As long as they are in good health, there are those who are ready to try everything. Nothing new, given that many practices are still carried out today without scientific support in the pursuit of physical well-being.

From the use of rhino horn pieces or powder for medical and aphrodisiac purposes, to shark cartilage to treat cancer, humans have a long history of searching for elixirs or miracle cures.

Such was the case with the “medicine of the mummies”, practiced by many physicians from the Middle Ages to the 19th century to treat various diseases. Eating mummies, ground and painted human remains, was considered a cure for everything from bubonic plague to headaches.

Europeans became obsessive lovers of Egyptian mummies. Pictured are mummies of priests, Giza Museum, Egypt.

Medicinal substance Mummy

The history of the practice, which may seem bleak to us today, dates back to the 12th century, in a world without antibiotics, when tomb robbers searched for loot, unpacked Egyptian mummies in hopes of finding jewelry or other valuables.

They noticed a black substance on the bodies, which they assumed was bitumen from the Red Sea. And that had the potential to be just as lucrative. Therefore, European pharmacists, eager to use the bitumen extracted from mummies, gave birth to a product that became known as Mumia; “Drugs” have been established for centuries as a healing substance consumed by both the rich and the poor.

Wooden pharmacy box with the inscription MUMIÆ.

Wooden pharmacy box with the inscription “MUMIÆ”.

The mummy was used to treat various diseases. According to the magazine DiscoverIt was applied topically to the eyes with cataracts or on the skin with lesions. Mixed with wine, it was supposed to be good for coughs and shortness of breath. Mixed with vinegar, it soothed lumbar pain. A mixture of mint, myrrh and bitumen was used to relieve quartz fever (a type of malaria). And when added to the cast, the medicine, made from the remains of mummies brought from Egyptian tombs, helped heal wounds and broken bones.

Natural bitumen collected on the shores of the Dead Sea.

Natural bitumen collected on the shores of the Dead Sea.

Great demand for mummies and fakes

However, not everyone was convinced. As explained by Professor Marcus Harmes of the University of South Queensland, Australia, in an article published in The conversation, Guy de la Fontaine, the physician of the King of Navarre, was one of those who doubted that the mummy was a useful medicine.

In addition to doubting the medicine made of mummies, de la Fontaine during a visit to Egypt in 1564 saw forged mummies made by dead peasants in Alexandria, cut and filled with bitumen.

In this way, the forgeries observed by the doctor illustrate, according to Harmes, how the supply of real Egyptian mummies could not meet the constant need for meat from the dead.

To meet the demand, according to Discoversome resorted to working with dead corpses in the sands of North Africa, while others resorted to the mummies of the Guanche people of the Canary Islands.

Mummies on display in front of a tomb in Thebes in 1860

Mummies on display in front of a tomb in Thebes in 1860

royalty ate royalty

On the other hand, some doctors even believed that the best medicine did not come from old and dry mummies, but from fresh flesh and blood, so they experimented with the bodies of recently executed prisoners, according to reports. Smithsonian Magazine.

This new and more terrifying practice convinced even the noblest, including King Charles II of England, who took medicine from human skulls after suffering a stroke.

According to Harmes, for the royal and social elite, eating mummies seemed like a medicine suitable for royalty, as doctors claim that the mummy was made by pharaohs. Kingdom eats royalty.

An 18th-century apothecary's court (albarelo) with an inscription (MUMIA) at the German Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg.

An 18th-century apothecary’s court (albarelo) with an inscription (MUMIA) at the German Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg.

Taboo on medical cannibalism

The practice finally began to decline in Europe in the 18th century as medicine moved away from medical cannibalism.

According to Discover, this was largely fueled by European missionaries and settlers who used cannibalism to justify the occupation of foreign lands. The fact that Europeans ate meat and drank blood for half a millennium has been conveniently forgotten, becoming taboo.

Mummies at Victorian private parties

However, the fascination with mummies did not stop. In the 19th century, Egyptian corpses, no longer used for disease treatment, became a source of entertainment, unfolding at Victorian-style private parties, where people flocked and were thrilled to see the unfolding of bandages. royal mummy. Seeing the dried meat and bones, the audience drank and applauded.

With the beginning of the 20th century, deployment parties also became less common, largely due to the sudden death in 1923 of Lord Carnarvon, sponsor of Tutankhamun’s expedition; although for natural reasons, death was soon attributed to a new superstition that became known as the “curse of the mummy.”

 On the steps leading to the door of Tutankhamun's tomb stand (from left to right) Lady Evelyn Herbert, her father Lord Carnarvon, Mr. Howard Carter, and Mr. B. Callander (Carter's chief assistant).  (1922)

On the steps leading to the door of Tutankhamun’s tomb stand (from left to right) Lady Evelyn Herbert, her father Lord Carnarvon, Mr. Howard Carter, and Mr. B. Callander (Carter’s chief assistant). (1922)

Despite the fact that today they are not consumed or shown at entertainment parties – no serious archaeologist would unpack a mummy and no doctor would suggest eating one – mummies continue to generate great passion around the world. Although not all are aimed at purely historical or scientific purposes. On the black market, according to Harmes, the smuggling of antiques – including mummies – is estimated at about $ 3,000 million.

Centuries may have passed, but “mummies are still being sold, still being exploited and are still a commodity,” concludes Professor Harmes.

Edited by Felipe Espinoza Wang.

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