Step One: Organ Removal
The body of Alan Billis was prepared for mummification and the internal organs removed by Professor Peter Vanezis. Following ancient Egyptian procedure, he first made a small incision approximately 4 inches long on the left side of the abdomen. He then removed most of the organs through this small opening, cutting them away and removing them one by one.
The exception was the heart, which was left intact because the Egyptians believed it was the seat of intelligence and needed in the last judgement before the soul could enter the next life.
The intestines, stomach, liver and lungs were also regarded as an essential requirement for the body in the afterlife. So, after their removal, each was preserved seperately inside a 'canopic jar', protected by its own god whose head was represented on the jar lid.
Although the brain was often removed through the nose using a metal implement, x-ray evidence reveals that many of the best Egyptian mummies had their brains left in place. Therefore, Alan's brain was left intact.
Step Two: Sterilising and Packing the Body
The Egyptian embalmers washed out the empty body cavity with palm wine, which acted as a sterilising agent. Dr Stephen Buckley prepared a solution of alcohol to represent the palm wine, mixing it with pine resin, which the Egyptians used and which acted as an antibacterial agent.
Again following ancient methods, small linen bags containing crushed spices, myrrh and sawdust were then packed inside the body to maintain its form. The abdomen was then stitched up and sealed with hot beeswax.
Step Three: The Protective Coating
Based on ingredients detected in his detailed chemical analysis, Dr Buckley blended together specific quantities of plant oil, pine resin, spices and beeswax. The ancient embalmers would have brushed this mixture over the entire surface of the body, although the modern embalmers used a pressurised spray gun and brushes to create an even layer. This outer coating was then left to set.
Step Four: The Natron Solution
The body was then treated with an egyptian salt called 'natron', made up of four constituent parts: sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulphate. Dr Buckley carefully measured each of these components to recreate naturally occurring natron. He then poured the blended salts into deionised water to create a salt solution of optimum concentration.
The intestines, stomach, liver and lungs were also placed in the same natron solution, within their individual containers.
The body and organs were then left in this solution for 35 days to allow the necessary chemical changes to occur. As water was drawn out of the body through the process of osmosis, the natron salts diffused into the body's soft tissue, the carbonates combining with the fats and turning them into a stable form more resistant to the process of decay.
Step Five: Wrapping and Drying
Once removed from the natron solution, Alan's delicate body was dried out for two weeks in a sealed unit, which was set to a specific combination of low humidity and warm temperature to recreate the ancient Egyptian environment.
Then the long process of wrapping began, using strips of linen cut to varying dimensions to fit different parts of the body, each layer sealed with melted pine resin and beeswax.
The intestines, stomach, liver and lungs were also removed from the natron solution, dried, wrapped and placed in their separate containers. Then the wrapped body and organs were placed back in the sealed unit and left to dry for a further six weeks.
For the ancient Egyptian embalmers, this would be the last time they saw the body, which was then placed inside the tomb.
John Taylor, Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press (London), 2001.
John Taylor, Mummy: the Inside Story, British Museum Press (London), 2004.
Grafton Elliot Smith, The Royal Mummies, Duckworth (London), 2000.
The Human Tissue Authority were consulted throughout the making of the programme. For more info on the HTA, click here.