People from ancient Egypt developed the technique of mummification, which was their way of embalming. For them, it had great religious implications, as it kept the body intact till the time it was reunited with the soul, which had returned from traversing the netherworld. Several other civilizations such as the Incas also utilized this practice. However, the ones to truly master this art were the embalmers of the Han dynasty in China. This technique was widely used during several wars, where it enabled the bodies of soldiers to be returned (withstanding travel over long distances) to their home countries for burial.
The contemporary purpose of embalming dead bodies is to ensure better presentation during funerals, and allows for an open casket ceremony. This discipline encompasses formal studies in the fields of anatomy, thanatology, chemistry, and specific embalming theory. However, such studies may vary from country to country. The core concept is complemented with practical instructions in a mortuary, and concludes with a formal qualification granted upon the passing of a final practical exam.
The three goals of embalming are sanitization, presentation, and preservation (or restoration). The most commonly followed process of embalming bodies starts with the verification that the person is actually dead. There are a few methods, which are routinely used by the embalmers to verify this. Before beginning the procedure, the body needs to be disrobed. Clothing and personal effects are to be kept aside. The preliminaries of the embalming process involve cleaning the body, and breaking down rigor mortis. To do this, the corpse is washed with a disinfectant and germicidal solution. Next, some features have to be set, which include a number of tasks to get the persons face to achieve a relaxed and calm expression.
The actual process starts with injecting an embalming fluid into the body through the carotid artery. Typically, this fluid contains a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and other solvents. The embalming solution is injected by a centrifugal pump into the body. The body is massaged to facilitate the outflow of blood, along with the distribution of the fluid. If there is a poor circulation of the arterial solution, it is injected through multiple points. Usually, an incision is made in the jugular vein, out of which blood and interstitial fluids leave the body after being pushed out by the embalming chemicals.
The next step to follow is the draining of the internal organs of fluids, and filling up the body cavities with embalming chemicals. This is done by making a small incision above the navel, and pushing in a trocar (two foot long metal tube attached to a plastic hose) into the chest and stomach cavities. The hose is attached to an aspirator, which sucks out the fluids from the internal organs. Once this is done, the same device is used to fill up these cavities with embalming chemicals. Upon completion, the incision is sutured close. This completes the preservation process.
The presentation process is termed as hypodermic embalming. It involves the injecting of chemicals under the skin to impart color and a healthy glow to the body. The body is then cleaned once again, and the parts that would remain exposed are moisturized. Cosmetics are usually applied to the face, and the hair may be trimmed. This is done to achieve a close resemblance to the provided photograph. The very last process before the funeral is to dress up the body. This is usually done in formal attire provided by the family. The body is then placed into the casket.
A normal embalming procedure takes several hours to complete. However, if the body has been exposed to trauma, or has gone through an autopsy, it may take much longer time for its completion. In present times, embalming is mostly done to delay decomposition for a funeral. If it is being done for long-term preservation, then the process employs entirely different techniques.