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UK man gets mummified like pharoahs

19 October 2011, 10:23

London - A British man has become the first person in 3 000 years to be mummified in the same way as ancient Egyptian pharaohs, a new TV documentary claims, after he donated his body to a science experiment.

Alan Billis, a 61-year-old taxi driver from Torquay in southwest England, died in January from lung cancer. Before he died, he volunteered to take part in a mummification experiment for television.

"People have been leaving their bodies to science for years, and if people don't volunteer for anything nothing gets found out," Billis says in the documentary, which will be screened in Britain on October 24.

"If it doesn't work it's not the end of the world, is it? Don't make any difference to me, I'm not going to feel it. It's still bloody interesting."

A team led by leading forensic pathologist Professor Peter Vanezis removed all of Billis' organs except his heart and brain, and left his body in a bath of special salts for a month, according to Channel 4 television.


The body was dried out in a special chamber at Sheffield's Medico Legal Centre in northern England, and then wrapped with linen bandages to allow the drying to continue, to keep his limbs intact and keep out light and insects.

They used a process developed by Dr Stephen Buckley, a chemist and research fellow from nearby York University, who has been studying the mummification process for almost 20 years.

He has focused his research on ancient Egypt's 18th dynasty, which produced the best preserved mummies, including the body of Tutankhamun, who died in 1323 BC.

One of Buckley's key discoveries was that, contrary to popular belief, the mummies did not have their brain removed through their nose.


Before Billis, Buckley had experimented with the mummification process on the legs of pigs, which have very similar tissue to human flesh, and even transformed his shed to replicate the desert conditions in Egypt.

After the researchers bandaged Billis' body, his widow Jan made a farewell visit, leaving some photographs and drawings by his grandchildren with him.

The process took three months and has been hailed a success by a number of expert scientists.

"The skin itself has this leathery appearance which indicates that he has become mummified all over," said Vanezis.

Buckley added: "I think he's on the road to looking very much like the best of the best of the 18th dynasty in 3 000 years' time."


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