How Embalming Works

Ancient Embalming Across the Globe

The Egyptians may have been trendsetters when it came to embalming, but the practice quickly spread to other ancient cultures. In fact, the Assyrians were known to use honey in embalming, while the Persians used wax. From ancient Africa and Asia, embalming spread to Europe.

In fact, embalming was used by a diverse set of cultures around the world throughout history. Other ancient cultures that appear to have used embalming include:


  • Guanches, aborigines of the Canary Islands -- The Guanches removed the soft internal organs and filled the body cavity with salt and vegetable powders.
  • Jivaro tribes in Ecuador and Peru -- These tribes completed the embalming process of their chiefs by roasting the deceased over a low fire, which they felt helped ensure immortality.
  • Tibetans -- Today, some bodies are still embalmed in Tibet using the ancient practice of placing the body in a large box packed in salt for three months [source: Encyclopedia Britannica]

Despite its popularity, not all ancient cultures followed suit and employed embalming. The Jews, Babylonians and Sumerians rarely used embalming.

Previously, it was believed the Greeks also stayed away from embalming. Recently, though, a Swiss-Greek research team, co-led by Dr. Frank Rühli from the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Zurich, uncovered the body of a 55-year-old woman in northern Greece dating back to the year 300 [source: ScienceDaily]. The team showed that the body was embalmed through the use of resins, oils and spices. It had been thought, from written sources, that just select people were embalmed in Roman Greece -- proof that there is still much to learn about the history of embalming.

Continue reading to learn about innovations in embalming, including which Renaissance scientist paved the way for modern embalming.