Did Egyptian Mummification Descend from a More Ancient and, Perhaps, Reversible Preservation Technique?
A central concept in the novel The Sphinx Scrolls is whether a mummification technology has ever existed that could preserve someone for long periods and retain the potential to bring them back to life. The book introduces the hypothesis that Egyptian mummification took its inspiration from an older and more advanced system which had such capabilities. But how far-fetched is that idea?
Mummification in Ancient Egypt, despite its success at preserving human tissue over thousands of years, was essentially symbolic. Take away belief in their spiritual afterlife, and the mummification process was just a sophisticated version of taxidermy, designed to halt the decay of skin cells. Internal organs were disposed of, since there was no concoction of spices and salts able to penetrate deep enough to save them.
Kai-i-nefer mummy, Egypt, Late Period, 525-332 BCE. (Public Domain)
But could Egyptian mummification have been a simplified, non-functioning version of a lost art of body preservation that had a real chance of reanimation? This notion only has credibility if it is first accepted that the Ancient Egyptians descended from a highly advanced antediluvian civilization, one that has since been lost to history. This controversial theory is based on numerous finds, curiosities and apparent anomalies supporting the tantalizing idea that instead of marking the zenith of mankind’s technological development, Egyptian achievements signaled the tail end of the decline of an even greater society.
Ancient Knowledge and Technology
In 1837 Egyptologist Colonel Howard Vyse blasted a hole in the Great Pyramid of Giza and discovered a section of iron sheet lodged between the inner blocks. Yet the pyramid was constructed two millennia before the Iron Age. Furthermore, a 1989 metallurgical analysis of that iron found traces of gold on its surface, suggesting it had been gold plated. This would have required knowledge of electricity.
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Other clues might also point to an understanding of electricity. The Hathor Temple at Dendera boasts stone reliefs depicting what some have interpreted as lightbulbs.
The Dendera Light (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Some researchers have further speculated that the absence of soot or burn marks from flame torches in some Egyptian tombs could indicate the use of a system of electric lighting. Then there are the drilled holes still to be found in the granite of the Great Pyramid and in many other sites, including stone quarries. Might these perfectly circular, deep holes have been cut using a tool that required electric power? What about the peculiar hieroglyphs in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos which appear to show a helicopter, a boat and an airplane?
The hieroglyphs in Temple of Seti I. (Public Domain)
A single aberrant artifact can be explained as a coincidence or a modern misinterpretation. The helicopter carving, for instance, is believed to result from overlapping hieroglyphs following the re-use of the same stone. But faced with many other instances that appear to defy the established historical timeline, should we at least consider the possibility that Pharaonic Egypt represented humanity’s rediscovery of a fraction of what it once knew? After all, did the ability to construct the Great Pyramid of Giza with such scale and accuracy arrive relatively suddenly in a Bronze Age society, or did its builders use knowledge that had been preserved for generations?
The Great Sphinx of Giza might be thousands of years older than the pyramids. Some geologists who studied its weathering patterns have claimed it dates back to a time when the Giza plateau had a wet climate – several millennia before the pyramid builders. If this is true, it could support the lost civilization theory. Could the Pharaohs have descended from an advanced antediluvian civilization? Were Ancient Egyptians dimly aware of a past glory, of a time when their ancestors had the potential to ‘live forever’?
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If the theories about Egyptian technology being a remnant of something far older and greater are true, then could their mummification also be a watered down version of a prehistoric technique that used more complex chemistry? Did they practice a pale remembrance of a procedure that preserved cells throughout the body, not just the skin, and that may even have been reversible? If so, they retained only partial knowledge. They didn’t possess the full recipe to mummify their dead with any prospect of genuine reanimation.
Mural of Egyptian Mummy Preparation at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Today’s cryonic sciences aim to preserve people without decay in order that a terminal ailment may be cured at some future date and the subject reanimated for a second chance at life. Cryonic techniques avoid cellular damage from ice during the freezing process by adding cryoprotectant chemicals to the body. These enable water in and around the cells to become solid without forming ice crystals. But the cryoprotectants themselves are harmful, and the system relies on the hope that future scientists will be able to reverse the adverse effects of their use. Is it conceivable that the ancients were able to formulate a cellular antifreeze that could avoid ice damage without harmful side-effects? Did they have a way to halt biological time without inducing permanent low temperatures? Is there a chemical compound which, when pumped through the body to replace the blood at the point of death, enables indefinite preservation without power or ice?
The preserved ancient Egyptian mummy of Seti I. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
This is speculation, not science. Hypothesis, not history. It’s easy to use imagination to joins the dots of history to create a coherent timeline of events without much evidence, but that timeline must be recognized for its speculative nature. Besides, if there was a reversible form of ambient temperature mummification in the distant past, surely such a preserved body would have been found by now? Well, not necessarily. War or natural disaster could explain their absence. Or we could be looking in the wrong place. For a moment, go on a flight of fancy and imagine Plato’s account of Atlantis was based on a real lost civilization with advanced technology, electronics, powered flight, navigation and sophisticated medicine. The Atlantians were said to have looked beyond our atmosphere for the answer to eternal ultra-low temperatures needed for cryo-preservation. They might have used rocketry to send mummified bodies to the outer reaches of the solar system, and this is what their descendants, the Egyptians, tried symbolically to emulate, thinking their dead would go on a journey to the stars.
These are currently topics for fiction. The Sphinx Scrolls joins the dots to create a coherent, dramatic history based on these ideas. It explores what could be true. But the concepts in the novel, however improbable, are not impossible. Perhaps the full recipe for ‘immortality’ still exists, preserved in the legendary ‘hall of records’ associated with the Sphinx? Today’s fiction could yet become tomorrow’s fact.
Stewart Ferris is author of The Sphinx Scrolls.
Top Image: An Egyptian Mummy (CC BY-NC 2.0)