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Embalmed In An ‘Unusual’ Manner

Howard Carter (May 9, 1874 – March 2, 1939), the British Archaeologist and Egyptologist, was stunned by the opulence of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun after discovering his tomb on November 4, 1922. After entering into the tomb of King Tut, he reportedly said: “Wonderful things!” In fact, Carter returned to the Valley of Kings, and investigated a line of huts that he had abandoned a few seasons earlier. The crew cleared the huts and rock debris beneath. On November 4, 1922, their young water boy accidentally stumbled upon a stone that turned out to be the top of a flight of steps cut into the bedrock. Carter had the steps partially dug out until the top of a mud-plastered doorway was found. The centenary of that discovery has just been completed, although the mummy of Tutankhamun and his golden coffin were discovered in 1925.

Tutankhamun (BCE 1341-1323) used to rule Egypt 3,500 years ago. He was crowned the Pharaoh at the age of nine, after the demise of his father Amenhotep IV (reigning BCE 1353-1336 or 1351-1334 BC). Amenhotep IV was the 10th ruler of the 18th Dynasty. King Tut passed away suddenly due to mysterious reasons at the age of 19, after ruling for just 10 years. The young pharaoh was buried immediately with great opulence for reasons unknown. The entrance of Tutankhamen’s tomb was covered by debris from other excavations. Hence, Carter and his team took time to discover his tomb.

The tomb of King Tut is a smaller one compared to that of other Egyptian Pharaohs. He, reportedly, was hastily buried within 70 days of his death. As per ancient Egyptian belief, it was customary to leave all their personal belongings with the corpse after the death of a Pharaoh or other important personalities. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s golden couch, golden throne, and golden coffin had stunned the global community. Archaeologists also found items, made of silver, mahogany wood and ivory, in his tomb.

Interestingly, a small leather pouch, along with a belt for tying it around the waist, was also found with the mummy of King Tut. Later, the researchers realised that it was actually an ancient condom. It means that the ancient Egyptians had an idea about the usage of condoms thousands of years ago. After testing the DNA (found inside the condom), researchers came to know that King Tut had used that condom. They concluded that the condom was made of thin cow skin, and was buried with the mummy just as a contraceptive device. It had no connection with any ancient practice. Interestingly, Tutankhamen was mummified with his penis erected to almost 90 degrees. However, the penis disappeared shortly after the discovery of the mummy. Later, it was found that the penis got separated, and was kept elsewhere.

The condom, found with Tutankhamen’s mummy, is the oldest discovered condom in history. Perhaps, possible causes of erected penis of the Pharaoh are related to religious rituals. There was an attempt to view Tutankhamun as an incarnation of Osiris, the God of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation in ancient Egyptian religion. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians started using condoms of different colours, depending on their social strata.

People in the olden days, living in other places of the world, also used condoms. According to materials kept in the Cairo Library and old research works, Minos, the King of the ancient Greek island of Crete, faced a problem. A number of his Queens and mistresses died mysteriously after indulging in physical relations with King Minos. The Greeks used to believe that there was poison in the king’s sperm. Then, Pasiphaë, the wise Queen of King Minos, came up with an idea. She used to put a thin piece of goat’s skin on her genitals before having intercourse with the king. Incidentally, Queen Pasiphaë survived even after giving birth to eight children.

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus was written in ancient Egypt 1800 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the oldest known medical text in Egypt, although not the oldest in the world as a Sumerian medical clay tablet from the 3rd Millennium is preserved in the Philadelphia Museum. Dated to BCE 1800, the Kahun Papyrus deals with women’s health, gynaecological diseases, fertility, pregnancy, contraception, etc. As described in the Kahun Papyrus, ancient Egyptians used to make contraceptives by mixing crocodile faeces with other natural herbs. The Egyptian women used this substance in their genitals. As faeces of crocodiles are acidic, they are used to kill sperm. However, current research suggests just the opposite. Being acidic, crocodile faeces increase the possibilities of successful fertilisation. Hence, researchers are not sure whether crocodile faeces actually killed the sperm. Ancient Indians reportedly used elephant dung to prevent pregnancy.

Although the Romans did not think much about condoms initially, they were concerned about syphilis later. They started using animal skins to protect themselves from the sexually transmitted disease. So shortly after the Egyptians, the Romans developed a method of making condoms from the thin skins of animals (primarily goats and sheep). The Chinese people, too, made condoms by mixing special oil with silk. By that time, the people of Japan learned to use Kabuto-gata, made of tortoise shell or horn, to cover their penis. Kabuto-gata can be described as a hard glans condom.

The ancient inhabitants of New Guinea started using extracts of selected plants on the female body as a contraceptive. In almost all ancient civilisations, men used a six-inch-long funnel made of special leaves on the female genitalia just before intercourse. While one end of that funnel was open, the other end was closed. Gabriele Falloppio (also Gabrielle Falloppia or Gabrielle Fallopius; 1522-23 – October 9, 1562), the 16th Century Italian Physiologist and Anatomist, discovered that wearing thin skin of sheep or goat on penis helped men prevent serious venereal diseases, such as syphilis.

When the French Army personnel started suffering from syphilis in the 15th Century, the usage of condoms became mandatory for them. In the 15th Century, men started using condoms made from thin animal skins. Even condoms were made using fish scales. Condoms became a widely used form of contraceptive in England in the 17th Century. The population of England also decreased suddenly at that time. Meanwhile, Charles Goodyear (December 29, 1800 – July 1, 1860), an American self-taught Chemist and Manufacturing Engineer, stunned the global community by developing vulcanised rubber, for which he received patent (No 3633) from the US Patent Office on June 15, 1844. Goodyear was the first person to mix sulphur with rubber in order to make elastic, flexible and durable modern condoms. The usage of modern condoms started later in 1860.

1) The Tomb of Tutankhamun, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
2) Scanning the Pharaohs, Zahi Hawass & Sahar Saleem, The American University in Cairo Press, 2018.

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