What is Embalming?
Embalming refers to the science of preserving human or animal body using techniques to stop the natural decay. Mummification is also a form of embalming that originated in Egypt around 6000 BC. Ancient Ethiopian tribes, Babylonians, Persians, and Syrians also preserved their dead by placing them in a vessel of honey or wax, this deprived the bacteria in the body of air hence decomposition was prevented. According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Bharat immersed Dashrath’s body in oil in order to preserve it till the return of Lord Rama.
Ancient Egyptians believed in the immortality of the soul and maintained that the soul would never fully leave the body as long as the body was intact. The body was mummified so that the soul could return after the “circle of necessity” (A 3000-year long journey before returning). After returning, the person would arise from the dead and live forever. Some historians maintain that the method of embalming was developed due to sanitary issues. Earlier the bodies were buried in the Nile valley which flooded frequently causing the unearthing of corpses.
Modern Day Practices
The modern method of embalming is defined as the disinfection and preservation of the dead human/animal body.
It is performed for given reasons:
- Disinfection: Many dangerous bacteria and virus have the ability to survive for long periods of time in dead tissues. Persons coming in direct contact with the un-embalmed body can be infected and there is the possibility of flies or other agents transferring pathogens to humans.
- Preservation and Restoration: Returning the body to a life-like appearance has received many critics, but the custom of viewing the body after death in a state of rest remains a practice of proven psychological worth.
The embalming process consists of four parts:
- Arterial embalming, which involves the injection of embalming chemicals into the blood vessels. This chemical replaces the blood and other fluids in the body.
- Cavity treatment/embalming refer to the removal of internal fluids inside body cavities via the use of an aspirator and trocar. A small incision is made just above the navel and a sharp tool is used to puncture the hollow organs to remove all the air.
- Hypodermic embalming is a supplemental method which refers to the injection of embalming chemicals into tissue with a hypodermic needle, which is generally used where arterial fluid has not been successfully distributed during the main arterial embalming.
- Surface embalming, another supplemental method, utilizes embalming chemicals to preserve and restore areas directly on the skin’s surface.
Modern day use of embalming is more common in scientific communities where preservation of the animal body is done for academics and collection purposes. We are more likely to see embalmed birds and insects in a museum which look amazingly lifelike.