It is a mystery that has baffled scientists for centuries: how were the Ancient Egyptians able to perfectly preserve their pharaohs for millennia? Now A former taxi driver has become the first person for 3,000 years to be mummified in the same way as the pharaohs.
Channel 4 follows a team of pioneering scientists attempting to solve this 3000-year-old enigma by mummifying a body donated specifically for the purpose. TV viewers will see Alan Billis turned into a mummy over the space of a few months as his body is preserved using the techniques which the ancient Egyptians used on Tutankhamun.
The 18th Dynasty was a time of huge cultural and political revolution, but it also marked the pinnacle of Egyptian embalming techniques. Using a secret and complex blend of ingredients and processes, priests managed to stop decomposition almost entirely. But what were the mysterious and complex recipes they were using? Did they really understand the science behind them? And, if so, could this represent the greatest scientific achievement of Ancient Egypt?
Mr Billis had been terminally ill with cancer when he volunteered to undergo the procedure which a scientist has been working to recreate for many years.
The 61-year-old from Torquay in Devon had the backing of his wife Jan, who said: “I’m the only woman in the country who’s got a mummy for a husband.” The process is revealed in a new Channel 4 documentary Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret to be screened on Monday October 24.
Dr Stephen Buckley, a chemist and research fellow at York University, has spent 19 years trying to uncover the preservation techniques which the Egyptians used during the 18th dynasty. Alongside archaeologist Dr Jo Fletcher, Dr Buckley has studied mummified bodies, analysing tissue samples and finally putting his findings into practice by putting them to the test on Mr Billis’s body at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre.
”It’s turned current understanding, including my own, completely on its head,” said Dr Buckley.
Mr Billis had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer when he heard about the search for a body donor. “I was reading the paper and there was a piece that said ‘volunteer wanted with a terminal illness to donate their body to be mummified’,” he told the documentary team.
”People have been leaving their bodies to science for years and if people don’t volunteer for anything nothing gets found out.”