- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

There's a mummy on the loose at the University of Maryland Medical Center, but it's no cause for panic.
No one awakened an ancient curse by messing around with the "Egyptian Book of the Dead." This mummy is newer than most, and reliably docile.
It was embalmed in 1994 by Ronald Wade, the university's anatomical services director, in partnership with Bob Brier of Long Island University, and mummified with the tools and techniques used in Egypt 2,800 years ago, Mr. Wade said.
The mummy was rolled out while Mr. Wade conducted a seminar on his craft for an eager audience of funeral directors, who were in town recently for the annual convention of the National Funeral Directors Association.
But the men and women in the audience were not looking to expand their knowledge of embalming techniques.
"I don't think candidly that mummification has any practical purpose in contemporary funeral practice," said Mike Ruck, a Baltimore funeral director.
Mr. Ruck and others were merely curious to learn about the creation of this modern-day King Tut, a corpse treated with the preservation techniques reserved for pharaohs and their families.
The only thing missing was the elegant sarcophagus: A glass-top coffin allowed the funeral directors to see the plain white linen wrapped around the mummy.
Other than being carted around and shown off, the only activity out of the mummy these days is a weight-loss regimen. When Mr. Wade and Mr. Brier began the process of removing fluids and internal organs from the corpse, it weighed 172 pounds. Now, it tips the scales at just 69 pounds.
"He's still losing weight," Mr. Wade said. "Every time we weigh him, he's lighter."
The loss comes from the method by which the Egyptians removed moisture from the body cavity. After removing the organs, Mr. Wade and Mr. Brier covered every square inch of the body with natron, a naturally occurring sodium compound.
After 35 days buried in natron, the mummy had lost 80 pounds, Mr. Wade said. This was just part of a process that led him to a greater understanding of how the Egyptians cared for their dead.
By taking the tools used in Egypt and figuring out their purpose by trial and error, Mr. Wade and Mr. Brier solved an enduring mystery of mummification: How exactly did the ancient Egyptians remove a mummy's brain through the nose?
They found they were able to make a passageway the size of a nickel into the sinus cavity, through which they inserted a spiral-shaped tool, shoving it all the way to the back of the brain.
Swirling it around like a whisk, the scientists liquefied the brain tissue, then flushed it with water. When the nostrils were pointed down, the brain simply drained out of the skull.
The funeral directors attending Mr. Wade's seminar studied these and other details in a meeting among people who earn their livelihood from human remains.
"I was amazed. I really didn't know about how they got the brain out," said John McDonough, a funeral director from Lowell, Mass.
Unlike his fellow audience members, Mr. McDonough saw the mummification seminar as more than an educational opportunity. He said it wasn't implausible to think that customers might want to be mummified instead of having their bodies disposed of in more culturally traditional ways.
"There are a certain number of people who want unique things," Mr. McDonough said. "As unpopular as cremation was in its infancy, who knows? Maybe people would want to preserve their bodies eternally."
To that end, he asked how much Mr. Wade would charge to perform the service, but Mr. Wade politely declined to consider the possibility.
"If a person has the economic means, and that's what they wanted to do, I suppose they could find someone," Mr. Wade said.
"I have a special affinity for mummies," he said. "My ninth-grade science project was on mummification. I wanted to use the neighbor's cat, but she wouldn't give it up, so I used a rat."

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