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Herodotus, the 5th Century B.C. Greek historian, explained that there were 3 categories of funeral procedures. For the expensive 1st class funeral, bearers carried the body to a ferry on the Nile. Transported to the western shore, the deceased was borne in a procession, headed by a priest, to the embalming tent.

The corpse was there cleansed and, while priests chanted dirges, craftsmen went to work. The chief embalmer wore a jackal’s mask – perhaps at first an echo from the days when jackals nosed around the shallow desert graves, but later on an image of the jackal-headed god Anubis, conductor of dead souls.

Enter that formidable personage, the cutter. According to Greek historian Diodorus, he would make an incision with an Ethiopian stone in the left side of the corpse’s belly, leaving a wound about 5 inches long, then flee as fast as he could run, pursued by flying rocks and curses – a token penalty for having violated a human body. Other workers now pulled out most of the viscera, embalmed them and placed them in four stone vessels to be buried with the mummy. The brain was dexterously extracted. Only the heart was left in place; seat of the conscience, it would be weighed in the Beyond. The empty body cavities were rinsed with palm wine and coated with liquid resins as a protection against parasites.

Human bodies are about 3/4’s water. How to remove it without damaging the tissues was the mummy maker’s secret. Modern scholars hold that dry natron, a natural substance containing sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride, was packed around the body. It would take 35 to 40 days to draw out liquids. The time span is referred to in Genesis. Joseph, on Jacob’s death in Egypt, “commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father… and 40 days were fulfilled for him; for so fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed.”