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Embalming Embalming is a mortuary custom the art of preserving bodies after death generally by the use of chemical substances It is believed to have originated among the Egyptians probably before 4000 BC and was used by them for more than 30 centuries Much evidence demonstrates that embalming is religious in origin conceived as a means of preparing the dead for the life after death From the Egyptians the practice of embalming spread to other ancient peoples including the Assyrians Jews Persians and Scythians Ancient embalming methods consisted of removal of the brains and viscera and the filling of bodily cavities with a mixture of balsamic herbs and other substances The Egyptians immersed the body in carbonate of soda injected the arteries and veins with balsams filled the cavities of the torso with bituminous and aromatic substances and salt and wound cloths saturated with similar materials around the body The Assyrians used honey in embalming the Persians used wax and the Jews used spices and aloes Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey and wax The Egyptians were particularly adept at embalming the soles of the feet of mummies when unwrapped after as much as 3000 years are often still soft and elastic Historians estimate that by AD 700 when the practice had died out among them the Egyptians had embalmed approximately 730 million bodies Although many were destroyed or disintegrated in the tropical heat of northern Africa a large number of mummies were preserved archaeologists estimate that several million are still preserved in undiscovered tombs and burial places From the ancient peoples of Africa and Asia embalming spread to Europe where in time it became a widespread practice Descriptions of methods used in Europe for almost 1200 years from about AD 500 have been preserved in the writings of contemporary physicians Embalming during the Middle Ages included evisceration immersion of the body in alcohol insertion of preservative herbs into incisions previously made in the
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