Chemical Composition

Surface samples of textiles, ceramics, and skin can all be collected for chemical analysis. These analyses can help determine if an individual was treated with any substances that could have contributed to the mummification process. One such substance is arsenic. Arsenic was first used in the United States as an embalming agent late in the Civil War to preserve Union soldiers for funerals in the distant north (Aufderheide 2003). Following the Civil War, another not so noble use of arsenic preservation was employed. Unclaimed bodies of individuals who died in communities were often mummified with arsenic in order to be displayed in the traveling sideshow circuit. Arsenic was no longer used after the 1920s due to its toxicity.

Chemical analysis can also be conducted on the hair of the mummy, which helps determine what type of diet the individual enjoyed, whether or not the individual smoked tobacco, and if there were any opiates in the system (Aufderheide 2003). The VE can assist in collecting these samples from within a bundle, further decreasing the chance of contamination.

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