A new study just published in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology takes an enthusiastic look at exactly how the Ancient Egyptians removed the brain from cadavers before they were mummified.
You’ll be pleased to know that a variety of techniques were used over the millennia but unfortunately none make for particularly good dinner time conversation owing to them being slightly gory.
But for those not gathered round the table, the article is joyously over-detailed. In this part, the authors consider the history of scientific attempts to understand how you get a brain out of a dead person working only through the nose.
Speculation surrounding the steps following perforation has inspired experimental attempts at excerebration in sheep and human cadavers. The general consensus is that either the brain was macerated by means of the vigorous insertion and rotation of the perforation tool or other similar instrument, or that the brain was simply allowed to liquefy in the hot Egyptian environment. The first method, consistent with the account of Herodotus, is withdrawal of residues on the perforation tool or its like and Macalister (1894) refers to a three-toothed hook pictured in Chabas’ Études sur l’Antiquité Historique (p. 79) that may have been used to this effect.
Similarly, Pirsig and Parsche (1991) suggest that a bamboo rod tied with linen may have sufficed for this piecemeal extraction of semi-liquid brain. Both of these techniques are time intensive, with the rod drawing out little of the brain on each retraction. Alternative to, or in conjunction with, the previous method it has been suggested that the liquefied or semi-liquid brain might be allowed to drain from the cranium by placing the body prone. This process might also be expedited by flushing the cranium with water or other fluids, such as the cedar oil used to dissolve organs in Herodotus’ account of the “second process” of mummification.
The ‘experimental attempt’ at trying this out on a human cadaver is referenced to a 1911 German book by Karl Sudoff which has a title that translates to ‘Egyptian mummification instruments’.
I can’t imagine exactly how the experiment came about but presumably the chap got so enamoured with the tools he was collecting he just wanted to ‘have a bit of a go himself’.
Link to locked article. Or rather, entombed.