Mummy – Body, Antiquity, or Medicine?


  • Vera Vasiljević Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, Universitz of Belgrade, Serbia
  • Staša Babić Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade University



mummification, human body, ecofact/artefact, reception of antiquity, ekofakt/ artefakt


In the Renaissance Europe, along with the keen admiration for Egyptian antiquities, a custom has been recorded of production and consumption of a powder healing a number of ailments, produced by grating mummies. The practice extended into the 20th century. The belief in the remedial effects of this substance is derived from the Classical and Arabic written sources, and may have been augmented by the ideas about the mystical wisdom of the ancient Egyptians, running throughout the European history and originating among the Classical Greeks. This exceptional example raises the problem of various ways in which the material remains of the past are perceived and classified. In the case of an Egyptian mummy, the object is a human body prepared for Afterlife in a culturally specific manner. Reception of ancient Egypt in subsequent epochs shrouded the practice of mummification, along with other aspects of this culture, in the veil covering the original character of the materialized trace. A human body – ecofact, subjected to a ritualized treatment, thus became an antiquity – artefact, whose possession insured social prestige. At the same time, precisely because its cultural affiliation, it was perceived as a source of healing powers, in the same way as some natural substances derived from plants or animals. The case of the Egyptian mummy illustrates the porosity of demarcation lines between the material traces of the past categorised as natural/cultural, artefact/ecofact, further leading to specialized and insufficiently integrated archaeological interpretations.


Download data is not yet available.


Belzoni, Giovanni. 1820. Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries Within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia; and of a Journey to the Coast of the Red Sea, in Search of the Ancient Berenice; and Another to the Oasis of Jupiter Ammon. London: John Murray.

Chapman, Robert & Alison Wylie. 2017. Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology. London: Bloomsbury.

Colby, Sasha. 2006. The Literary Archaeologies of Théophile Gautier. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 8/2: 1–12.

Connan, Jacques. 2005. “La momification dans l’Égypte ancienne le bitume et les autres ingrédients organiques des baumes de momies ou Les ingrédients organiques des baumes de momies égyptiennes: bitume, cire d’abeille, résines, poix, graisse, huile, vin, etc”. In Encyclopédie religieuse de l’univers végétal. Croyances phytoreligieuses de l’Égypte ancienne III, ed. by Sydney H. Aufrère, 163–211. Orientalia Monspeliensia 15 (3). Montpellier: Université Paul-Valéry.

Dannenfeldt, Karl H. 1985. Egyptian Mumia: The Sixteenth Century Experience and Debate. The Sixteenth Century Journal 16/2: 163–180.

Day, Jasmine. 2006. The mummy’s curse: mummymania in the English-speaking world. London: Routledge.

Derricourt, Robin. 2015. Antiquity Imagined. The Remarkable Legacy of Egypt and the Ancient Near East. London: I. B. Tauris.

Du Camp, Maxime. 1860. Le Nil: Égypte et Nubie, 2eme edition. Paris: Librarie nouvelle.

Еl Daly, Okasha. 2005. Egyptology: The Missing Millennium. Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings. London: UCL Press.

Godfraind-De Becker, Anne. 2010. Utilisations des momies de l’antiquité à l’aube du XXe siècle. Revue des Questions Scientifiques 181/3: 305–340.

Gordon-Grube, Karen. 1988. Anthropophagy in Post-Renaissance Europe: The Tradition of Medicinal Cannibalism. American Anthropologist n.s. 90/2: 405–409.

Hamilakis, Yannis, Mark Pluciennik, and Sara Tarlow. 2002. Introduction to Thinking through the body, ed. by Yannis Hamilakis, Mark Pluciennik, and Sara Tarlow, 1–21. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers,

Helck, Wolfgang. 1975. “Bitumen”. In Lexikon der Ägyptologie I, ed. by Eberhard Otto and Wolfgang Helck, 825. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Jackson, William. 2004. The Use of Unicorn Horn in Medicine. The Pharmaceutical Journal 273: 925–927.

Jones, Andrew. 2002. Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keezer, William S. 1964. Animal Sources of Early Remedies. Bios 35/2: 86–91.

Kinski, Michael. 2005. Materia Medica in Edo Period Japan. The Case of Mummy Takai Ranzan’s Shokuji kai, Part Two. Japonica Humboldtiana 9: 55–170.

Kristiansen, Kristian. 2014. Towards a New Paradigm? The Third Science Revolution and its Possible Consequences in Archaeology. Current Swedish Archaeology 22: 11–34.

Kus, Susan. 1992. “Toward an Archaeology of Body and Soul”. In Representations in Archaeology, ed. by Jean-Claude Gardin, and Christopher S. Peebles, 168–177. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lindenbaum, Shirley. 2004. Thinking about Cannibalism. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 475–498.

Lomazzo, Giovanni Paolo. 1584. Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scoltura et architettura. Milano: Paolo Gottardo Pontio.

Lucas, Gavin. 2001. Critical Approaches to Fieldwork. Contemporary and historical archaeological practice. London: Routledge

Lucas, Gavin. 2012. Understanding the Archeological Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maupassant, Guy de. 1889 [1884]. Gustave Flaubert. In Lettres de Gustave Flaubert à George Sand, I–LXXXVI. Paris: G. Charpentier et Cie.

Milwright, Marcus. 2003. The Balsam of Maṭariyya: An Exploration of a Medieval Panacea. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 66/2: 193–209.

Noble, Louise. 2003. “And Make Two Pasties of Your Shameful Heads”: Medicinal Cannibalism and Healing the Body Politic in “Titus Andronicus”. ELH 70(3): 677–708.

Pearce, Susan M. 2000. Giovanni Battista Belzoni’s exhibition of the reconstructed tomb of Pharaoh Seti I in 1821. Journal of the History of Collections 12(1): 109–125.

Riggs, Christina. 2010. Body. In UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ed. by Elizabeth Frood, and Willeke Wendrich. Los Angeles.

– – – . 2017. The body in the box: archiving the Egyptian mummy. Archival Science 17: 125–150.

Rössler-Köhler, Ursula. 1980. “Kannibalismus”. In Lexikon der Ägyptologie III, ed. by Wolfgang Helck and Wolfhart Westendorf, 314–315. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Rubenstein, Jay. 2008. Cannibals and Crusaders. French Historical Studies 31/4: 525– 552.

Sauneron, Serge. 1970. “Anthropophagie”. In Dictionaire de la civilisation égyptienne, ed. by George Posener, 15–16. Paris: Fernand Hazan.

Serpico, Margaret, and Raymond White. 2000. “Resins, amber and bitumen”. In Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, ed. by Paul T. Nicholson, and Ian Shaw, 430–474. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scholz-Böttcher, Barbara M., Arie Nissenbaum, Jürgen Rullkötter. 2013. An 18th century medication ‘‘Mumia vera aegyptica’’ – Fake or authentic? Organic Geochemistry 65: 1–18.

Tarlow, Sara. 2002. “The aesthetic corpse in nineteenth-century Britain”. In Thinking through the body, ed. by Yannis Hamilakis, Mark Pluciennik and Sara Tarlow, 85– 97. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Torres, R[ebecca] Leopoldina. 2013. A Pigment from the Depths. Index Magazine, October 31, 2013. (pristupljeno 26.3.2017).

Vasiljević, Vera. 2016. Senka Egipta. Beograd: Dosije Studio.

Vilnev, Rolan. 2004. Istorija kanibalizma. Biblioteka Cveće Zla 9. Čačak: Gradac.

Westendorf, Wolfhart. 1986. “Tod”. In Lexikon der Ägyptologie VI, ed. by Wolfgang Helck and Wolfhart Westendorf, 613–615. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Woodcock, Sally. 1996. Body Colour: The misuse of mummy. The Conservator 20: 87–94.




How to Cite

Vasiljević, Vera, and Staša Babić. 2017. “Mummy – Body, Antiquity, or Medicine?”. Etnoantropološki Problemi / Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 12 (3):785-800.

Most read articles by the same author(s)

<< < 1 2