History of the Embalming Process

By: Alex S. and Kristina K.

First embalming method:

  • Brain tissue was removed
  • Internal organs were removed
  • Interior of the body cavity was anointed
The incision was covered in beeswax to produce a less obvious scar on the body.
"Natron was used to dehydrate the body before it was wrapped in clothing.

"Natron" is a mixture of Sodium Chloride, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Carbonate, and Potassium and Sodium Nitrate.

Second embalming method:

  • Inject cedar oil into the anus to close the opening
  • Use natron to dehydrate the body
  • After a period of time the oil was drained

Third embalming method:

  • Cleanse the body
  • Dry it with natron
  • Wrap it with linen

Formaldehyde has been working as a cell preservative since the late 1800's.

It was founded by Ferdinand Blum in 1893.

  • low cost
  • available in a usable form
  • simple to use

Undergoes two reactions:

  • formation of methylene glycol
  • reacts with oxygen to yield formic acid

*Methanol, methyl salicylate, and an assortment of other chemicals are added to embalming fluids to prevent excess formic acid formation.

Here are a varitey of embalming fluids used during the process of embalming.

Boric acid combined with borax or sodium bicarbonate combined with diabaic sodium phosphate are cmmon chemicals used in formaldeyde based embalming fluids to control the pH.

These are some utensils used for embalmment.

Replacing Formaldehyde

  • Hilton Ira Jones was granted a patent for an embalming fluid containing dialdehyde glyoxal.
  • Glutaraldehyde was used as a formaldehyde substitue.

             -reaction with protein end groups occurs at a much lower pH than formaldehyde

             -protein binding is much greater and stronger than formaldehyde

             -the number of cross links in glutaraldehyde are much higher

why formaldehyde is used in the United States:

  • It is a well-accepted standard in the embalming industry
  • It is five to eight times less expensive per pound
  • It is a less skin and eye irritant than glutaraldehyde
This is a picture of a body during embalmment.


American Chemical Socitey, Today's Chemist At Work, December 2002

Comment Stream