Chemical Undertaking

History of Embalming Methods

Ancient Egyptian Methods

In ancient Egypt, there were three methods that they used to embalm bodies.

  • One method that they used was to remove all the brain tissue through the nostril. Then they would take out the internal organs through an incision. They would put beeswax on that incision to make the scar less obvious. After they used natron, a mixture of sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, sodium carbonate, and potassium and sodium nitrate, to dehydrate the body.
  • The next method was to inject cedar oil into the anus and stop the opening. The body was then treated with natron. Then after a while, they would drain the oil that removed the internal organs
  • The last method is cleaning the body, treat it with natron, and then wrap the body in linens.

Earlier Embalming Methods

  • In the fifteenth century, common embalming fluids contained turpentine, camphor, lavender oil, vermilion, wine, rosin, and saltpeter. Leonardo da Vinci also explained a method of using venous injections to preserve bodies.
  • In the seventeenth century, Gabriel Clauderus, a German physician, had a book that explained an embalming method that used "balsamic spirit." This mixture was made by dissolving one pound of cream of tartar and a half-pound of salammoniac in six pounds of water. The body was injected with this mixture then emerged in it for six weeks. It was then put out in the sun to dry.
  • In the eighteenth century, a Scottish anatomist, William Hunter, used a mixture of turpentine and camphor.
  • In the nineteenth century, embalming fluids were used as a disinfectant, body preservative, and to prevent bacterial growth. The fluid had salts of heavy metal such as arsenic, antimony, lead, mercury, and copper.


  • After laws were passed banning the use of metal salts in embalming, formaldehyde took their place as an embalming fluid.
  • It was discovered by a Ferdinand Blum, a German physician.
  • Formaldehyde is the most popular fluid because of its low cost, its avalibility, and its easiness of use.
  • It undergoes two reactions while preserving a body. The first is the formation of methylene glycol that preserves the tissue. The second is when the formaldehyde reacts with oxygen to produce formic acid. Since formic acid produce pigments, methanol methyl salicylate, and other chemicals are used to stop an excess of formic acid being made.
  • After death, the pH of blood becomes acidic because of lactic and carbonic acids are produced. To neurtalize to blood boric acid with borax or dibasic sodium phosphate is used. These chemicals are the most popular chemicals used with formaldehyde embalming method.


  • Glutaraldehyde was used and has similar effects as formaldehyde, but with a decrease of tissue dehydration.
  • The rate of cell preservation using it depended on many factors including concentration, pH, and temperature.
  • Glutaraldehyde has a more stable protein-aldehyde system than formaldehyde.
  • It also penetrates and distributes more evenly into the body's tissues. This cause a more natural looking skin and coloring.

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