Materials used to preserve the dead

I have been considering materials used to preserve the dead as an aid to my thought processes surrounding preserving memory. Alot of my work tends to be quite materials led and I therefore tend to build upon materials that surround a theme.

My obvious first stop in the preservation of human remains was to explore the materials used during the mummification processes in ancient egypt.

The main materials used included Natron salt, Coniferous resin, Mastic, Myrrh, Beeswax, Bitumen, Casia, Onions, Lichen, Henna, and Gum Arabic.

Some of these materials were used for aesthetic purposes for example henna was used as a dye for the hair but others were integral to the preservation of the body like natron salt.

These materials are an exciting discovery, some are materials I have previously used to explore similar subjects but I also like the dual meaning of items such as salt. Salt is a metaphor for sadness and tears but it has also been used historically during both mourning within ‘lachrymatory’ tear bottles as well as part of funeral customs to ward off evil spirits. See the image below from the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

salt museum of scotland

British Museum 4th April 2016

During a trip to London I took the opportunity to explore The Egyptian section of The British Museum. This allowed me to further explore the materials used during embalming.


Natron Salt and the vessels discovered that were used to store it.


Modern sample of Embalmers Salts.


Natron salt as it was used during the preparation of the dead. A packing agent to absorb body fluids.



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