Why did people start eating Egyptian Mummies? The Weird and Wild Ways Mummy Fever Spread Through Europe

Cannibalism is good for your health.

Why did people start eating Egyptian Mummies? The Weird and Wild Ways Mummy Fever Spread Through Europe

Cannibalism is good for your health. This answer gives us a glimpse into some of the most bizarre facets of European history at a time in which Europeans were obsessed about Egyptian mummies.

The fascination with the ancient Egyptian bandaged corpses grew first from belief that tinctured human remains could treat anything, from bubonic plague and headaches, to Victorian ideas about after-dinner entertainment.

People believed that mummies could heal illness, so they ate horrible food for centuries.

Mumia, a product made from mummified bodies was used for centuries as a medicine. It was available in apothecaries' stores and made from the remains of Egyptian mummies that were brought back to Europe from Egypt.

Mummies were being used for their miraculous medicinal properties by apothecaries as early as the 12th century. For 500 years, mummies were used as a prescription medicine.

Doctors prescribed grinding skulls, bones, and flesh in a world that didn't have antibiotics. This was to treat everything from headaches to swelling, or even the cure for the plague.

Some people were not convinced. Guy de la Fontaine was a royal doctor who doubted that mumia could be a useful medicine. He saw fake mummies made of dead peasants in Alexandria, 1564. He realized that people can be conned. They didn't always consume authentic ancient mummies.

The forgeries however highlight an important point: There was a constant demand for flesh that could be used for medicine, and real Egyptian mummies were not available to meet this demand.

In the 18th century, herbalists and apothecaries still gave mummy medicine.

Some doctors believe that old mummies, not dry meat, are the best medicine. Some doctors believed that fresh blood and meat could give life to the dead.

Even the most noble noblest nobles could be convinced that fresh is best. After suffering a seizure, King Charles II of England took medication from human skulls. Until 1909, doctors used human skulls to treat neurological disorders.

Mummies were a popular treat for the social and royal elite. Doctors claimed that mumia was made of pharaohs. The royals ate the royalty.

People were not eating mummies to heal illness in the 19th century. Instead, Victorians hosted "unwrapping parties," where Egyptian corpses were unwrapped for private entertainment.

Napoleon's 1798 expedition to Egypt piqued European curiosity. It also allowed 19th-century travelers to Egypt to bring back whole mummies that they had gotten off the streets in Egypt.

Victorians hosted private parties to wrap ancient Egyptian mummies.

Unwrapping early events had at most a veneer medical respectability. Thomas Petti, a surgeon at the Royal College of Surgeons, unwrapped an Egyptian mummy in 1834. This unwrapping was a common medical event in his day, as public autopsies and operations were performed.

Soon, medical research became a distant dream. Mummies had become more than just a source of entertainment and medicine. An entertainer who can entertain a crowd while not wrapping was wealthy enough to own a mummy.

People were captivated by the sight of dried flesh and bones becoming bandages. People were loud and grateful for strong drinks.

The 20th century was beginning and the Mummy Unwrapping Parties ended. It was regrettable that the macabre thrills were in poor taste.

The discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb sparked a new craze for art deco design. This included everything from the door motifs in the Chrysler Building to Cartier's clock shapes. Although Lord Carnarvon was the sponsor of the Tutankhamen Expedition, his sudden death in 1923 was due to natural causes, it was soon linked to "the mummy’s curse".

John J. Johnston, an Egyptologist, hosted the first public unwrapping a mummy since 1908. Johnston's immersive recreation of Victorian unwrapping was part art, part science and part show.

It was tasteless, with everything from Bangles' Walk Like An Egyptian on loud speaker to the plying attendees with straight Gin.

Although the mummy was just an actor covered in bandages, it was a sensory overload. It was an example of how mummies can cross over many realms of experience, from the medical to macabre.

The black market for antiquity smuggling, including mummies, is estimated to be worth approximately US$3Billion today.

A serious archaeologist wouldn't open a mummy wrapper and neither would a physician. The lure of the mummy is strong. They are still available for sale, they are still being exploited and they remain a valuable commodity.

Marcus Harmes, University of Southern Queensland Professor in Pathways Education

This article was republished by The Conversation under Creative Commons. You can read the original article.