Mummy month bonus: LOLMummies (and some not so much mummies)

by guest blogger Jolaine Incognito

Mummy Month overdose! Jolaine’s excellent May is Mummy Month lurches into June with this final scary cute post.

Thanks, LOLCats!

a mummy broke in while you were gone...  s'aight.  i took care of him.
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funny pictures
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funny pictures of cats with captions
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funny pictures of cats with captions
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May is mummy month 10: Mummies on film

The first mummy film, The Mummy of King Ramses, debuted in 1909, but it was King Tut mania that made mummy movies multiply in the 1930 and 40s. The best-known movies of the era are Boris Karloff’s The Mummy

and the Three Stooges’ parody We want our Mummy.


In 1955, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy sparked another series of mummy movies.

(I digress to mention one of the least famous mummy movies ever: The Mummy’s Shroud, from 1967. The trailer features a hilarious creepy crone.  Skip ahead to 1:51 and 2:06.)

As far as I can tell, the first female mummy in a leading role appeared in 1971’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Not exactly a feminist triumph, however. This mummy was buried in a sequined bikini top and, oddly, underwent mummification without suffering a trace of desiccation. The beautiful young woman she possesses can be heard to intone the words “I have no mind, no will.” Nice subtle subtext, there, guys.

The next mini-revival came in 1999, with The Mummy,

a loose remake of the Boris Karloff film. (Yes, there were sequels, but the less said about them the better). Personally, I’m very fond of this movie. Mainly that’s because it provided the phrase that my husband and I use to signal that the litter box needs attention: “There’s something underneath that sand … and it’s evil.”

Here ends my movie mummy summary. This is the point at which Teresa would muse, “Why do mummies continue to be popular? What is it about the mummy mythos that taps into the human psyche?” When it comes to psychology, I’m about as useful as Dr. Temperance Brennan,

so I’m not going to attempt an answer. offers some counter-commentary, and as always, DOTW would love to hear your thoughts.

Without getting all psychological, I can tell you why I like mummies. Mummies are history and fantasy, mystery and fact. The process of studying mummies is an homage to human inquiry and ingenuity. The results of that study reveal a culture that is, to me, untouchably foreign. Where study stops, imagination takes over, in a varied body of mummy fiction. Mummies are human past and human potential, all wrapped up in one neat little bundle. And soaked in pissasphalt.


May is mummy month 9: Mummies in literature

I ended my last post with a crack about pulp fiction, but I’m going to begin this post with some papyrus fiction.

Not surprisingly, the first mummy stories were written in ancient Egypt more than 2300 years ago. One popular character was Setne Khamwas, who in real life was a high priest and lesser royal. In one story, Khamwas has to acquire the forbidden Book of Thoth, but he has to defeat its guardian mummy to do it. Luckily, all he has to do is defeat him at a board game called senet. Unluckily, the mummy wins. Luckily, Khamwas manages to steal the book. Unluckily, Khamwas had never read any mummy stories beforehand, so he didn’t know that cheating a guardian mummy is a bad idea. Things got worse for Khamwas, and he decided to return the book. He lived happily ever after. I’m not sure if the same can accurately be said of the mummy.

The English-language mummy opus had a separate origin. In the 18th and 19th centuries, mummy “unrollings” and other feats of Egyptology were all the rage across Europe and North America. Novelists were a bit slow on the uptake, but they did eventually catch on, with the first mummy novel appearing in 1857. Theophile Gauthier’s Romance of a Mummy tells the love story of a young woman whose mummified remains – and conveniently-recorded biography – were discovered by archaeologists thousands of years later.

One source credited Arthur Conan Doyle with turning mummies into villains in the 1890s, with short stories The Ring of Thoth and Lot No. 249 . This is just another example of a female writer getting cheated of her due. Louisa May Alcott beat Doyle by 21 years, with her 1869 short story Lost in a Pyramid .

As far as I can determine, the first full-length English-language mummy novel was Bram Stoker’s 1903 The Jewel of the Seven Stars . Today, best-selling authors including Anne Rice and Elizabeth Peters continue to carry the torch (which I like to think is made of mummy wrappings dipped in pissasphalt). And I must mention the great doyenne of English literature, Jane Austen, who, with Vera Nazarian, penned the timeless classic, MANSFIELD PARK AND MUMMIES: Monster Mayhem, Matrimony, Ancient Curses, True Love, and Other Dire Delights.

* Pause while Teresa’s head explodes*

Where mummy books truly thrive is in the children’s market, where countless fiction and non-fiction offerings are available. Even if mummies no longer cause adults to say “eek!”, they still cause kids to say “ick!”


Next time: Mummies on Film

May is mummy month 8: What was the Egyptian word for “Mummy”?

by guest blogger Jolaine Incognito

The ancient Egyptian word for “mummy” was sah, meaning “nobility” and “dignity.”

So where did the English word “mummy” come from?

There once was a substance called pissasphalt. Pissasphalt was a semi-liquid bituminous substance resembling bitumen mixed with pitch. Pissasphalt was believed to have medicinal properties. Pisassphalt could be used as a fragrance or as an emollient. For a time, people believed that the Egyptians embalmed their dead with pissasphalt. (Seriously, with a word like “pissasphalt” to play with, would you use pronouns?)

A thousand years ago (give or take) Latin and Arabic respectively used the words mummia and mmiy or mūmiya to denote bituminous substances. These words derived from the Persian word mūm, meaning “wax”. A few hundred years later, the word attracted a connotation of a bituminous substance used medicinally or for embalming – although why anyone needed a synonym for pissasphalt, I’ll never know.

Mumia appeared in Spanish, meaning either “bitumen” or “liquid issuing from mummified human flesh.” Not to be left out, the Portuguese used maminha to mean “tarry substance secreted by mummified bodies.” Swedes, Germans and Danes all used the word mumie, while the Dutch squandered their ems on mummie.

There was little, it seems, that a corpse’s ooze could not achieve. A seventeenth-century text claimed that “true mumie” was “the uniuersal medicine, and the true balsam conseruing and restoring nature.” In 1886, mummy was prescribed for “cases of severe prostration and debility.” In 1716, Alexander Pope recommended “The Mummy of some deceas’d Moderator of the General Assembly in Scotland, to be taken inwardly as an effectual Antidote against Antichrist.”

Then the word took a connotative digression toward violence. Since “mummy” essentially meant “a pulpy substance or mass,” it was inevitable that it would give rise to expressions such as “beat to mummy”, or Emily Brontë’s variant, “thrashing him to a mummy.”

Finally, after first meaning “the stuff used to mummify a corpse” (pissasphalt!), and then meaning “the stuff that leaks out of a mummified corpse”, the word “mummy” worked its way around to meaning “mummified corpse.”

Or, to summarize a different way: A thousand years ago, a person who heard the word “mummy” would think “petroleum pulp.” Six hundred years ago, the same person would think “extruded gut pulp,” and two hundred years ago, “beaten to a pulp.” Today, a person who hears “mummy” is likely to think “pulp fiction.”

Next time: Mummies in Literature


May is mummy month 7: CSI Cairo

Curses aside, there are dangers in mummy work. Mummies can harbour  fungi or mold spores, some of which are  toxic enough that archaeologists now wear masks and gloves when unwrapping a mummy. Given the right conditions, these fungi and spores can survive for thousands of years. Mummification rituals designed to enable eternal life may have been partially successful, if off-target.

Apart from mummies, fungi and spores (oh my!), can you guess what else is preserved in the embalming process?


Scientists from the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo (wouldn’t you love to have that on your business cards?) took DNA fingerprints of King Tut and several other mummies in his tomb. They mapped out a five-generation family tree, disproving the theory that Tut’s mother was Queen Nefertiri. In fact, she was his father’s half-sister.

Archaeologists already knew that Tut was a frail lad, since his tomb contained more than a hundred walking sticks and a pharmaceutical cornucopia. The recent DNA tests, coupled with CT scans, revealed a family history of clubfoot and scoliosis. Poor wee Tut also had various foot deformities caused by poor circulation.

I’ve saved the coolest part for last. The Supreme Council of Antiquities team also found the DNA of a micro-organism called Plasmodium falciparum, better known as malaria. The second-coolest part is where they found it: in King Tut. His nasty malaria infection might have contributed to his death at age 19, in 1324 B.C.

Next time, try your hand at our quiz question: What was the ancient Egyptian word for “mummy”?

Hint: It’s not “mummy”.


May is mummy month 6: The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb

by guest blogger Jolaine Incognito

You think embalming was a hassle? Try burial.

Because Pharaohs were buried with riches, their tombs had to be secure enough to deter thieves. In addition to barriers, mazes and decoys, a few tombs were protected by curses. Unfortunately for the deceased, graverobbers proved persistent, clever, and surprisingly curse-resistant. By the 19th century, when Europeans started seeking treasure in ancient Egyptian tombs, there was little treasure left to be found.

Howard Carter and King Tut

An Englishman named Howard Carter became convinced that one tomb remained undiscovered: the tomb of King Tutankhamen. On November 4th, 1922, more than 30 obsessive years after his arrival in Egypt, Carter’s team discovered a previously hidden – and still sealed – tomb entrance bearing the name Tutankhamen.

One of Carter’s henchman had been using a canary to show the way to the tomb. Before the tomb could be unsealed, the henchman ran to Carter with a handful of yellow feathers. “The pharaoh’s serpent ate the bird because it led us to the hidden tomb! You must not disturb the tomb!” Carter sent him packing.

Along with his patron, Lord Carnarvon, Carter opened the tomb. It contained incredible treasure, including a stone sarcophagus, inside which were three nested gold coffins, inside which was the mummy of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.

According to rumour, the tomb also contained curses. In one version, Carter was supposed to have found a tablet inscribed with a curse. Later versions report an inscription on the exterior of the tomb: “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King.”A few months after the tomb’s opening, Lord Carnarvon died unexpectedly.
The exact cause of death was not known, but a likely culprit was an infection from an insect bite. When Tutankhamun’s mummy was unwrapped in 1925, it was said to bear a wound in the very same spot as Carnarvon’s fatal bite.

By 1929 eleven people connected with the discovery of the tomb had died of unexplained causes. The press tracked the deaths, attributing each to the “Mummy’s Curse”. By 1935 the curse had supposedly claimed 21 victims.

If you want to believe in the curse, stop reading here.

Authentic Tomb Curses
It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber. I am for the protection of the deceased.As for anybody who shall enter this tomb in his impurity: I shall ring his neck as a bird’s.

As for any man who shall destroy these, it is the god Thoth who shall destroy him.

As for him who shall destroy this inscription: He shall not reach his home. He shall not embrace his children. He shall not see success.

Later actuarial analyses showed that there was nothing unusual about the frequency and timing of the deaths, given the life expectancies of those involved in unsealing the tomb. Perhaps the curse had a nefarious psychological effect on some – but not on Howard Carter, pragmatist and curse nay-sayer from Day One. Carter died of natural causes at the then-ripe-old age of 66.

Next time: Stand back, I’z going to do science.


May is mummy month 5: Multimedia mummies

by pedagogical guest blogger Jolaine Incognito

Last time, DOTW presented mummy-making through two pedagogical routes: a reading and a slideshow. What could possibly be left? A song, of course!

Our multimedia mummy musings don’t end there. Here’s a bonus filmstrip on the ways in which mummies themselves are a multipurpose medium.

Next time: The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb.

May is mummy month 4: Making mummies

by erudite guest blogger Jolaine Incognito

What pops up when you Google “How to make a mummy?” This.

How to Make a Mummy

No wrapping your little brother in sheets, this is the real stuff modified only slightly.

Difficulty Level: average Time Required: 55 days

Here’s How:

  • Get four jars to hold the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach. Keep the heart inside the body and discard the other internal body organs.
  • Poke a rod with a hook on it through the nasal cavity to pull out the brain. Stuff the head with tree resin and sawdust.
  • Soak the body in natron for 40 days. Then put the body on an inclining couch so the liquids and natron fall to the bottom into a pan. Discard.
  • Rub the body with olibanum oil to make the skin supple.
  • Pack the body to make it more lifelike (with spices or sawdust).
  • Use wax to seal any incisions.
  • Tear fine linen into strips 16 yards long and 2-8 inches wide.
  • Wrap the smaller extremities (toes and fingers) first.
  • Next, wrap the limbs, and finally, the torso.
  • Sing appropriate chants over each body part.
  • Secure linen with tree resin.
  • Tuck in an amulet after every few layers.


  • You’ll need over 1000 yards of fine linen.
  • The wrapping should take 15 days.
  • Natron is a drying solution from the Nile area. It’s similar to baking soda and salt.

No, it’s not from Epicurious. It’s not even from Epidownrightstrange. It’s from

Better yet, for an awesome illustrated how-to slideshow, go to

Or, if you’d prefer to be made into a mummy …

Yes, apparently mummification continues to be a commercially viable business. Who knew?

Three mummies found in the tomb of Amenhotep II.

Next class: Filmstrips!