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Mummies: In Another Light

Neither researchers started studying Egyptian Mummies, nor the historians recognised them in the 19th Century. At that period of time, street vendors used to sell mummies openly in the northern African country. According to historians, aristocrats, as well as the common people, were the main buyers. One may be shocked to know what was done with those mummies. For a long time, Europeans were unaware of the history of Africa and West Asia. As expected, they also had no idea about (the historical importance of) mummies. Even the Egyptians did not realise their importance at one time.

The army of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (born Napoleone Buonaparte; August 15, 1769 – May 5, 1821) arrived in Egypt in 1798. They entered Alexandria first, and then captured the entire northern part of the country. Thereafter, the French people revealed the history of Egypt to the global community. Later, Egyptian mummies gradually gained popularity in the Western world.

Before the arrival of French soldiers, mummies were sold in the streets and markets. In 19th Century Egypt, the aristocrats used to purchase mummies from open markets, and to organise parties, popularly known as Mummy Unwrapping Parties. The chemically-treated clothes of mummies were undressed in the presence of guests at those parties. Guests used to wait eagerly to see what was behind the wrap. Often, they burst into applause. Many of them hoped that precious metals or stones would be there inside the wrap. Also, people used to enjoy foods and drinks after the Mummy Unwrapping event!

The Egyptians used mummies for various purposes at that period of time. They excavated different pyramids to recover mummies. It was a common practice to grind those mummies into powder and consume it as medicine in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Egyptians used to export the mummy powder to foreign countries, too. As people believed that they could remain healthy by consuming the powder, the demand for this product increased sharply. Some corrupt people took this opportunity to start a new business. They started murdering the vagabonds, dried their flesh, and sold it as mummy powder.

When the Industrial Revolution took place in Europe, the continent started using mummy powder in a strange manner… as a fertiliser in farming. The European farmers scattered mummy powder in the fields, as they used to believe that it would increase the production. At one point of time, Egypt started shipping mummies mainly to England and Germany. As the demand for mummies increased in Europe, some Egyptian businessmen became rich by exporting them.

Egypt also sent mummies to the US, where those were used for different purposes. Egyptians had prepared mummies by wrapping clothes, soaked in medicines, over dead bodies thousands of years ago. Those clothes were used to manufacture paper in the US. Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens; November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), once said that mummies were also used as fuel, mainly to run railway engines, in the US.

A group of researchers realised the historical importance of Egyptian mummies at the end of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, the Egyptians had destroyed a lot of mummies before that. Then, the aristocrats in Europe and the US started importing mummies from Egypt to decorate their living rooms. Thus, keeping mummies at residences became a status symbol. Citizens of Britain and the US used to purchase mummies as souvenirs during their trip to Egypt. Some of them bought mummies at a low price in Egypt, and sold them at a high rate in their own countries. Although the number of mummies gradually decreased in Egypt due to this, the African nation tried its best to supply mummies to foreign countries.

Later, many traders in Europe and the US started collecting corpses from poor Egyptian families. Then, they buried those corpses under the sand, and kept them in the sunlight in an attempt to give them the shape of a mummy. Thereafter, they sold those artificial mummies to aristocrats. Those were also called Brown Mummies. Researchers have opined that many of the mummies, preserved at various museums across the globe, were actually prepared in the 16th and 17th Centuries, or even later. Black marketers stopped making artificial mummies in the 20th Century, as those could no longer be sold by tricking buyers. Meanwhile, mummies were almost extinct in Egypt by that time.

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