Our Class Archive of Essays: The Pros and Cons, “Another Tag, Seriously?!

Our Class Archive of Essays: The Pros and Cons, “Another Tag, Seriously?!
Final Blog Post #8

Initially, I did not know what to make of this blog. It’s not that I had not been required to use this format, blogging, in the past; I had. However, the first couple of weeks of posting to this blog were exercises in frustration. In the past, the logistics were clear and concise starting everyone off on the same footing; I believe there is a great amount of fruit to be harvested when everyone starts with the same tools and expertise of the harvest. Yes, yes, yes, I know its college and everyone needs to put on their big people pants; but, this was pitted with hiccups and frankly, indigestion. We just recently, at almost the end of the term, found out how to properly orchestrate a “Tag”, and from the looks of things it has resulted in an “over-breeding” of the species. One other writer’s inference pointed to the difficulty navigating the blogs with the sheer volume of tags; and, how other topics were located under tags that had nothing to do with the subject matter. A limited number of tags would have led to better organization of the subjects and a more focused attempt to review the blogs. To validate my point, I personally fell prey to the failure of this current “Tag” free for all. The incorrect blog was selected as my final Midterm Paper, and graded! We were asked to blog an introductory Midterm Topic blog, followed by the final paper in a separate blog; but, it appears the “Tag” dilemma led to the incorrect selection. I am more than upset at this oversight! Now I ask you, “Is this how technology serves humanity?” Not from my vantage point.
My rant being over, I do not have to like something to see the full picture, the full potential. Logistics aside, I saw the community that this blog brought to the class. It was a means for us to access each others writings on a level that provided for communication of passion, personal competitive spirit, a deeper understanding of technology and media, and a heartfelt compassion for a little creature we call “the bee”. As a tool, the blog site accomplished community; but, it did not instill the personal investment in the writer’s theme, nor did it cultivate it. I was truly engaged by many of the blogs. Clearly, the writers downed their guard and shared with us their inner most convictions, passions, and hopes for their future. I felt the writer’s desire to share their interests with us, many, presented their ideas as a means to educate. I witnessed the maturity and depth of writing unfold as the class tackled issues representing the relationship between technology and society. At the center of the portrait lay the synergistic blend of technology and humanity. As we distance ourselves from our central perspective we begin to appreciate that technological innovations may actually denude us of our humanity. That was not the attitude I encountered in the class discussions or in the blog writings. I found classmate’s attitudes to be positive about technologies’ contribution to society and the betterment of man. One writer spoke of the self-worth and accomplishment attained as a doctor simply by having the opportunity to improve someone else’s life. Initially pointing out that this may sound naive, she counters this belief with the position that it be a necessity of every medical student. Humanity needs this strength in attitude if we are to overcome our pitfalls. Writing was, is, and will always be that means of strengthening our convictions. It brings out the best in all of us. It puts us in touch with our inner heart; that collection of compassion and conscience that drives us to pay it forward.
Despite my opening, very negative, commentary about this blog site, I am eternally grateful for having shared it with so many passionate and dedicated individuals. What a privilege to have shared this experience with such passionate writers. I am truly blessed to have known you and your writings. Thank you!

Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology; Embracing Death through Cultural Beliefs, Rituals, and Mummification.

Final Paper, COMPSTD 2367.04, SP 2015,
George H. Uhrman, Jr., DVM, 04/24/2015

Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology;
Embracing Death through Cultural Beliefs, Rituals, and Mummification.

Pic1 (8). The Weighing of the Heart ritual, shown in the Book of the Dead of Sesostris.

I believe our respect and reverence for life itself brings us, as Homo sapiens, to respect and revere death; not as an aspect of life, but rather, as its own entity, a new journey, an uncharted travel to a place no one has ventured before. Moreover, Egyptians embraced death even though no one had personal experience with it and developed their unique funerary services, or technology. Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology emphasized two mandates; first, an adherence to cultural beliefs and rituals laid out in The Book of The Dead, and second, mummification as a means of body preservation. The Egyptian Civilization believed it was necessary to have rituals and spells to access the Afterlife and a functional body for the soul to inhabit and navigate the Kingdom of the Dead (1).
Across Mother Earth we have found many cultures and ethnicities celebrate varying funerary practices with respect to their clan. We can look to early Greek narratives for insight into funerary practices, as they are the only “earliest” recorded narratives, ca. 2200 BCE (Before Common Era) — 135 CE (Common Era), to have survived, for many reasons. They speak to the role of myth in the classical world; famous Greek heroes such as Gilgamesh, Herakles, and Theseus tackle “Classical Greek issues”, such as death and dying. The Greek Myths helped everyday Greeks understand the questions surrounding their lives; death, the most allusive of all ideologies.
As with the early Greeks, most individuals of this time period saw death as an individual experience. With the advent of Christianity, arose the concept of an apocalypse; an all-consuming, world-wide event capable of destroying all of humanity. Even with this idea of Apocalypse, many cultures and ethnicities stood by their “individual death experience” and continue to follow “traditional” funerary practices; “traditional” for their people. This narrative will address one such “early” funerary practice or “technology”, which is depicted in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” (1), (3); a cryptic collection of tailored, individual instructions for prominent, “Royal” Egyptians to succeed in the afterlife, an afterlife travel guide if-you-will.
The “Book of the Dead” was not a mass-produced collective of funerary technology; but rather, a catalog of hymns, epithets and magical spells tailored exclusively to protect the owner, and his family, and magically assure their continued existence in the afterlife and unencumbered journey in the Underworld. These hymns, epithets, and magical spells were recited by a priest at the embalming of the body. Outside being written on papyrus scroll, these funerary directives, or texts, could also be found inscribed on the inner surfaces of coffins or tomb walls (2). The “Book of the Dead”, most often written in hieroglyphic script and illustrated with vignettes, was placed in the coffin or burial tomb.

Pic2 (9). An authentic “Book of the Dead”, on display at the British Museum, Nov. 2010.

Each individual “Book of the Dead”, contained spells, some to be spoken by a priest during the embalming or mummification of the body of the deceased; others to ensure their safety, and yet others allowing the deceased to engage in the world around him. Egyptians looked to Osiris, the mythological Egyptian god of death, for guidance when they were selecting hymns and magical spells to customize their personal “Book of the Dead”. The Osiris Myth contained hundreds of ritualistic magical spells, epitaphs, hymns and litanies that an individual could choose from. In addition, paintings and illustrations were often personal enhancements placed in “their book” to gain favor with the guardians of the gate to the Afterlife as well as Osiris (1).
Egyptian funerary technology of the time would have placed great emphasis on the process of mummification. By definition, mummification as a process, is a series of physical and chemical applications, in addition to, ritualistic magical spells, epitaphs, hymns and litanies recited by an Egyptian priest at the time the body is embalmed; all of which is designed to minimize or arrest tissue decomposition (1), (3), and (5).
Anthropologists and historical scholars alike credit the Egyptians with the origination and refinement of the funerary technology known as mummification; despite other discoveries of mummification from other cultures around the world, i.e. Peru, Guanche mummies in England, and the Canary Islands (5). To understand why mummification originated with the Egyptians and the process and refinement as a technology we first must examine Egyptian Cosmogonies.
Cosmogonies are narratives, or stories about how everything in existence came into being; also referred to as creation myths (1). To early cultures in the Mesopotamian region of northern Africa, creation myths provided a foundation for religion, cultural morays, and in many respects an ancient “Mediterranean Family Tree”, if you will. These cosmogonies established religious directives for the polytheist societies of the time; crafting a fundamental means to worship many gods in a way that offered answers to philosophic questions, such as, “Is there an after-life?” Egyptians believed that death offered so much more than the act of dying; provided, the individual be of high social status, they have accumulated wealth, and that they believe they can influence and actively participate in their final outcome. Egyptians understood death as something to be managed and in turn life could be restored. Guided by their dedication and worship to the god of death, Osiris, ancient Egyptians turned to The Osiris Myth to choose from a litany of thousands of magical spells, hymns, and epitaphs to create an individualized, custom Pyramid Text, Coffin Text, or Book of the Dead (1). The Osiris Myth also validated how Egyptians understood the necessity for cultural rituals and mummification of the body.
Of parallel, if not paramount, importance to Egyptian funerary practice was the preservation of the body to the best of their capabilities; a procedural technique called embalming. But through the translation of Egyptian funerary texts and narratives by Greek and Roman authors we now know that embalming of the body was more than a series of physical and chemical applications, i.e. mummification, designed to minimize or arrest the decomposition of tissue. Rather, embalming was the mutual employment of traditional tissue preservation practices plus ritualistic magical spells and religious hymns and litanies recited by an Egyptian priest (1) (3). Through the many spells, epitaphs and hymns of The Osiris Myth, Egyptians came to understand that the soul and the body must be kept fully functional in order to navigate the kingdom of death. The religious rituals applied to the soul and the mortuary practice of mummification preserved the body.
Mummification began with the descendant lying face up on a flat stone in the mortuary. Mortuaries were typically built in catacombs or subterranean crypts were cool and often arid air conditions were present, facilitating desiccation, or water loss of the body tissues. Removal of tissue water content is essential to successful mummification. Next, the abdominal viscera and organs are removed, washed and desiccated; then individually wrapped in small packages for return to the abdominal cavity at the final stage of preparation, wrapping of the body in linen. Next, the brain is liquefied and removed from the skull using a special implement and one of many possible entrance/exit sites created in the floor of the calvarium. At this point the abdominal cavity is washed thoroughly and dried; the body is then flexed into a fetal or sitting position and lowered into a concentrated salt bath, in a large jar, with the head exposed (5). The degree of desiccation and the relative time frame to complete this is directly proportional to the ratio of skin surface area to the underlying body volume. The desiccation process is complete when the epidermis of the skin easily abrades. At this point the body is removed from the salt bath, rinsed and dried thoroughly with meticulous detail paid to replacing any finger nails or toe nails that have unintentionally fallen loose and coating the abdominal cavity with a mixture of oils and fragrances. Next, the small packages of abdominal organs are placed in the abdominal cavity and the wound is traditionally closed with a plate of wax (1). Finally, the body is coated in a mixture of oil and fragrance, wrapped twice with long tapes of linen and then covered with a mixture of oil, fragrances and resins. This final wrapping ensures the maintenance of tissue desiccation and to prevent insects from desecrating the body (4) (5).
In conclusion, Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology centered on two mandates; one, an adherence to cultural beliefs and rituals as laid out in The Book of the Dead, and two, mummification as a means of body preservation. When we consider technology as a construct our attention tends to turn to the more modern technological advancements we surround ourselves with each day. Despite their seductive allure, today’s technologies may be purely for profit; but, a closer look at some of man’s ancient technologies often uncovers a collaboration between religious ideals and rituals, mythological themes, human necessity, and early applied science. Egypt’s funerary technology is one such early civilization technology that is a complimentary blend of mythology and early applied science. Our insights into Ӧtzi (7), the Iceman mummy discovered in the Alps, demonstrated that technology does not have to be modern, it just has to be an advanced practice of that time. From the Iceman’s clothing, flint, wood used in his equipment, and his copper axe, scientists were able to get a glimpse into the Iceman’s technology at that time. But what is not readily apparent in the technology are his religious ideals and rituals; not to mention, the full human necessity inherent in his life. We will never know about Ӧtzi’s beliefs surrounding death; we can only speculate on how he lived. Fortunately, through ancient narratives and concrete evidence found in pyramids, we have more information on how a whole civilization, the Egyptians, faced death with reverence.

Citations:
1) Lopez-Ruiz, Carolina. Gods, Heroes, and Monsters. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 2014. p. 23 – 27, p. 445 – 451. Print
2) Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 1. London, England: Universitym of California Press.
3) ASSMANN, JAN, and DAVID LORTON. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 2005. Print.
4) Mummies. Lynnerup, Niels. American Journal of Physical Anthropology vol. 134 issue S45 2007. p. 162 – 190.
5) Dawson, Warren R. “Contributions to the History of Mummification.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 20.6 (1927): 832–854. Print.
6) Dunn, Jimmy (22 August 2011). “An Overview of Mummification in Ancient Egypt”. Retrieved 9, November 2013.
7) “Ӧtzi–the Iceman homepage.” South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology | Part. IVA, 2013. <http://www.iceman.it/en/node/226&gt;
8) Pic1. Detail from the book of the dead of Sesostris, 15th century b.c. (Vienna, Austria]).
9) Pic2. Robertson, Graema. The Guardian 2010. In Pictures: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead at the British Museum.

Personal Research Reflection: Experiences that led to my topic choice

Personal Research Reflection, Blog Post #7

Following spring break the assigned topics, presented to the class, shifted to those surrounding the human experience. In particular, topics focused on the idea of an apocalypse, how race becomes biology, what it means to be human, genetic engineering, happiness, and end of life care. It was from this list of topics that I found the inspiration to choose my end term project subject. My subject choice evolved into Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology; Mummification.
Given a choice, I believe all of us would prefer to write about something that we have had personal experience with. I am no different. After reviewing the syllabus topics, as listed above, I was comfortable in knowing that from the very broad topic of “Death and Dying” would come my research paper subject. My comfort writing about death and dying, also in a large part, comes from my personal experiences throughout my life.
In grade school, my best friend’s dad was my “larger-than-life” hero; Captain America and Superman would have had to surrender their place in line just to let this man be first. Dad Nick, as I called him, was an Army veteran and Chief of Police of a town west of Toledo, Ohio. He taught us to hunt and fish at a very young age. He taught us to respect the death of the animal we brought home. Dad would tell us that the animal surrendered its life to us that we could eat and be healthy. To note, we were strictly forbidden to shoot or catch anything out of season or that we were not going to eat.
My next introduction to death and dying came from the passing of family; grandpa, grandma, aunts and uncles. My mother’s family was Irish Catholic. The first funeral service I attended, on my mother’s side, was an old fashioned Irish Wake at the home of the uncle that died. When we arrived I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of my dead uncle sitting in a chair; with a celebratory drink in his hand, and the family laughing and toasting his passage to heaven. His death was seen as his greatest achievement in life; such that an all-out celebration was in order. The wake continued all night and into the next day; personal stories reminiscing about Uncle Bill could be heard all about the room. Even as a young boy I remember thinking about the overwhelming love and respect everyone bestowed on Uncle Bill.
My father’s family was old world German in heritage. Funerals for loved ones were only held at one particular funeral home, Jason’s. The family was galvanized when it came to certain beliefs and rituals. First, the signature directory was to be handled with care; one individual was assigned to make sure it went home after the funeral. Second, one or two family members took photos of the decedent, to be processed, duplicated and passed out to family members at a later gathering. And finally, decisions founded on beliefs regarding protection of the body were made well in advance of the viewing; the casket must be made of copper, the casket must be set into a sealed concrete vault in the ground, ultimately only the best of the best would do. I can remember my father and his sisters expressing their deep fear of water touching their body in the casket as well as insects.
I began my life’s work in medicine as a Registered Respiratory Therapist, spending 13 years working in all areas of patient care. I worked every position from Neonatal Intensive Care to the Trauma Team in the emergency room. My career took me to many hospitals in and around my home as well as hospitals in the Fort Myers, Florida area. This was the point in my life were death lost its surreal sheen. It was as real as real could get; I became a first-hand witness of death, from the still born premature baby to the geriatric patient whose body is just too tired. In between, death came as an automobile accident, a horrific gunshot, and the unthinkable blindsided blow that no one saw coming. I began to take courses on death and dying in an effort to get a grasp on this thing was insidiously seeding itself into my day. I studied other cultures and their beliefs and was impressed by the reverence and respect they had for the act of dying; not as an end, but as a new beginning of the next and final journey.
Whenever I covered the emergency room I often saw the dark side of death; the victim of a gun shot during a domestic crime of passion, the beautiful 14 year old girl who while walking along a busy road was struck in the back of the head by the side mirror of a truck speeding down her road, I remember crying for her father as he entered the trauma room to be with her. By this point I was becoming “Burnt Out” and began looking to other professions.
The cliff notes version, I went on to Veterinary Medical School and became a Doctor Veterinary Medicine. I loved working with dogs and cats; snakes – not so much. And then, there was that uninvited guest, “Death”, even in veterinary medicine death has its place. We see all the same end of life illnesses that humans face, only sooner. I will say that I have witnessed owners grieving more for the loss of their dog that I saw family grieving over the loss of a premature baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care. Currently, Veterinary Medicine offers euthanasia as a tool to end suffering of an animal. Euthanasia was a struggle for me to understand and to perform; it weighed heavy on my conscience, it went against everything I was taught growing up, it challenged my commitment to God and my faith beliefs surrounding death and dying. I almost stopped practicing medicine because of the stress it brought to my life. I had to find some means of reconciling the act of creating death. Finally, I settled on performing euthanasia if the patient met one of two criteria. One, the illness was terminal, there was no known cure, irregardless of cost, and it was clear the animal was suffering. Or two, it was a safety issue; a cat or a dog that had overt aggression issues and proven to have harmed another animal or a person. To this day I remain committed to this approach. I have turned away many clients, over the years, that I felt were turning to euthanasia for all the wrong reasons. I am proud to say that I have never compromised my position on euthanasia.
Each of my past experiences surrounding death led to my choice of writing about ancient Egyptian funerary practices, cultural beliefs and rituals, and the practice of mummification. From the first time, as a young boy, I saw an Egyptian mummy at the Toledo Museum of Art I have had an intense fascination and profound respect for the Egyptian civilization. I recognized their commitment to the cultural belief that death was merely a journey to continue their lives in another realm. They based their funerary practices on the most current social and scientific knowledge of the time. Moreover, the Egyptians remained committed to their beliefs and practices throughout their time as a civilization. Writing about their practices was an easy choice for me; like myself, the Egyptians saw death as a continuation of life that commanded respect, not sad ending. I will always remain fascinated with the Egyptian civilization and their cultural beliefs and practices.

Essay Outline; Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology

Title: Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology; Embracing Death through Cultural Beliefs, Rituals, and Mummification.
I) Introduction: Man’s respect and reverence for life lends to respect and reverence for death.
A) Egyptians saw death as a new journey that no one had personal experience with. (Thesis) Unique Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology emphasized two mandates; first, an adherence to cultural beliefs and rituals laid out in The Book of The Dead, and second, mummification as means of body preservation, Egyptians believed it was necessary to have a functional body for the soul to navigate the Kingdom of the Dead (1).

II) Historical Record: Earliest recorded narratives are Greek, ca. 2200 BCE (Before Common Era) —135 CE (Common Era).
A) Famous Greek heroes such as Gilgamesh, Herakles, and Theseus, through their mythological stories help everyday Greeks understand classical Greek issues surrounding their lives and their deaths.
B) Most individuals of this time period saw death as an individual journey.
C) Christianity introduced the concept of an apocalypse, and all-consuming, world- wide event capable of destroying all of humanity.

III) Cultural beliefs and rituals surrounding death.
A) The Book of the Dead (1), (3).
1) A cryptic collection of tailored, individual instructions for prominent, “Royal” Egyptians to succeed in the afterlife.
2) Hymns, epithets and magical spell recited by priest at embalming, written in coffin or on tomb walls (2).
3) Osirian Myth: Osiris, mythological Egyptian god of death, king of the dead, depicted as first mummy. The Osiris Myth, used as guide to customize the text found in the individual The Book of the Dead (1).

IV) Mummification
A) Definition: a series of physical and chemical applications, in addition to, ritualistic magical spells, epitaphs, and hymns and litanies recited by an Egyptian priest at the time the body is embalmed; all of which is designed to minimize or arrest tissue decomposition (1), (3), and (5).
1) Mummies found as part of other cultures around the world, but, the Egyptians credited with the origination and refinement of technology.
B) Origination of technology, alluded to in Egyptian Cosmogonies.
1) Cosmogonies established a foundation for religion, cultural morays, and established a familial lineage (1).
2) Helped answer “Is there an after-life?” Egyptians understood death as something to be managed and in turn life could be restored.
3) The Osiris Myth revisited. Egyptians understand why it is so important to pay meticulous care to the body; a means necessary for the soul to navigate the kingdom of death (1), (3).
C) The process of Mummification.
1) Body face up on flat mortuary stone; cool crypt, arid conditions facilitate desiccation.
2) Abdominal viscera and organs removed, washed and desiccated, individually wrapped, returned to body cavity later.
3) Brain liquefied and removed from skull.
4) Body cavity washed and dried, body flexed into fetal or sitting position and lowered into a concentrated salt bath in a large jar, with the head exposed (5).
5) When epidermis of skin can be easily lifted the body is removed from salt jar.
6) Replace any fingernails or toenails that have fallen off.
7) Coat abdominal cavity with oils and fragrances, replace abdominal organs that are individually wrapped. Close abdomen with linen tapes and a plate of wax.
8) Finally, body coated in oil and fragrance, wrapped twice with linen tapes, final coat of oil and fragrance and resin, then final linen wrap (5), (4).

V) Conclusion.
A) Ancient Egyptian Funerary Technology centered on two mandates; one, an adherence to cultural beliefs and rituals and laid out in The Book of the Dead, and two, mummification as a means of body preservation.
B) Funerary Technology of the day shows a collaboration between …
1) Religious ideals and rituals, mythological themes, human necessity, and early applied science.
C) Managing death meant life restored.

Citations:
1) Lopez-Ruiz, Carolina. Gods, Heroes, and Monsters. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 2014. p. 23 – 27, p. 445 – 451. Print
2) Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 1. London, England: Universitym of California Press.
3) ASSMANN, JAN, and DAVID LORTON. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 2005. Print.
4) Mummies. Lynnerup, Niels. American Journal of Physical Anthropology vol. 134 issue S45 2007. p. 162 – 190.
5) Dawson, Warren R. “Contributions to the History of Mummification.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 20.6 (1927): 832–854. Print.
6) Dunn, Jimmy (22 August 2011). “An Overview of Mummification in Ancient Egypt”. Retrieved 9, November 2013.
7) Pic1. Detail from the book of the dead of Sesostris, 15th century b.c. (Vienna, Austria]).
8) Pic2. Robertson, Graema. The Guardian 2010. In Pictures: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead at the British Museum.

Mummification; A Funerary Technology of An Ancient Civilization

Anthropologists and historical scholars alike credit the Egyptians with the origination and refinement of the funerary technology known as mummification; despite other discoveries of mummification from other cultures around the world, i.e. Peru, Guanche mummies in England, and the Canary Islands (1). To understand why mummification originated with the Egyptians and the process and refinement as a technology we first must examine Egyptian Cosmogonies.
Cosmogonies are narratives, or stories about how everything in existence came into being; also referred to as creation myths (4). To early cultures in the Mesopotamian region of northern Africa, creation myths provided a foundation for religion, cultural morays, and in many respects an ancient “Mediterranean Family Tree”, if you will. These cosmogonies established religious directive for the polytheist societies of the time; crafting a fundamental means to worship many gods in a way that offered answers to philosophic questions, such as, “Is there an after-life?” Egyptians believed that death offered so much more than the act of dying; provided, the individual be of high social status, they have accumulated wealth, and that they believe they can influence and actively participate in the final outcome. Egyptians understood death as something to be managed and in turn life could be restored. Guided by their dedication and worship to the god of death, Osiris, ancient Egyptians turned to The Osiris Myth to choose from a litany of thousands of magical spells, hymns, and epitaphs to create an individualized, custom Pyramid Text, Coffin Text, or Book of the Dead (4).
Of parallel, if not paramount, importance to Egyptian funerary practice was the preservation of the body to the best of their capabilities; a procedural technique called embalming. But through the translation of Egyptian funerary texts and narratives by Greek and Roman authors we now know that embalming of the body was more than a series of physical and chemical applications, i.e. mummification, designed to minimize or arrest the decomposition of tissue. Rather, embalming was the mutual employment of traditional tissue preservation practices plus ritualistic magical spells and religious hymns and litanies recited by an Egyptian priest (3) (4). Through the many spells, epitaphs and hymns of The Osiris Myth, Egyptians came to understand that the soul and the body must be kept fully functional in order to navigate the kingdom of death. The religious rituals applied to the soul and the mortuary practice of mummification preserved the body.
Mummification began with the descendant lying face up on a flat stone in the mortuary. Mortuaries were typically built in catacombs or subterranean crypts were cool and often arid air conditions were present, facilitating desiccation, or water loss of the body tissues. Removal of tissue water content is essential to successful mummification. Next, the abdominal viscera and organs are removed, washed and desiccated; then individually wrapped in small packages for return to the abdominal cavity at the final stage of preparation, wrapping of the body in linen. Next, the brain is liquefied and removed from the skull using a special implement and one of many possible entrance/exit sites created in the floor of the caldarium. At this point the abdominal cavity is washed thoroughly and dried; the body is then flexed into a fetal or sitting position and lowered into a concentrated salt bath, in a large jar, with the head exposed. The degree of desiccation and the relative time frame to complete this is directly proportional to the ratio of skin surface area to the underlying body volume. The desiccation process is complete when the epidermis of the skin easily epilates. At this point the body is removed from the salt bath, rinsed and dried thoroughly with meticulous detail paid to replacing any finger nails or toe nails that have unintentionally fallen loose and coating the abdominal cavity with a mixture of oils and fragrances. Next, the small packages of abdominal organs are placed in the abdominal cavity and the wound is traditionally closed with a plate of wax (1). Finally, the body is coated in a mixture of oil and fragrance, wrapped twice with long tapes of linen and then covered with a mixture of oil, fragrances and resins. This final wrapping ensures the maintenance of tissue desiccation and to prevent insects from desecrating the body (2) (1).
When we consider technology as a construct our attention tends to turn to the more modern technological advancements we surround ourselves with each day. Despite their seductive allure, today’s technologies may be purely for profit; but, a closer look at some of man’s ancient technologies often uncovers a collaboration between religious ideals and rituals, mythological themes, human necessity, and early applied science. Egypt’s funerary technology of mummification is one such early civilization technology that is a complimentary blend of mythology and early applied science. Not readily apparent in the technology of mummification are the religious ideals and rituals; not to mention, the human necessity inherent in the mythology. Ancient Egyptians firmly believed that by properly managing death, in turn life could be restored.
Citations:
1) Dawson, Warren R. “Contributions to the History of Mummification.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of                                         Medicine  20.6  (1927): 832–854. Print.
2) Mummies. Lynnerup, Niels. American Journal of Physical Anthropology vol. 134 issue S45 2007. p. 162 – 190
3) ASSMANN, JAN, and DAVID LORTON. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca; London: Cornell University                              Press, 2005. Print.
4) Lopez-Ruiz, Carolina. Gods, Heroes, and Monsters. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 2014. p. 23 – 27. Print

Cultural Rituals Surrounding Death: Egyptian Funerary Technology

Cultural Rituals Surrounding Death: Egyptian Funerary Technology

(Disclaimer: unable to Pic1 or Pic2 in their prospective locations)

Pic1. The Weighing of the Heart ritual, shown in the Book of the Dead of Sesostris

I believe our respect and reverence for life itself brings us, as Homo sapiens, to respect and revere death, not as an aspect of life, but rather, as its own entity; a new journey, an uncharted travel to a place no one has ventured before. Across Mother Earth we have found many cultures and ethnicities celebrate varying funerary practices with respect to their clan. We can look to early Greek narratives for insight into funerary practices, as they are the only “earliest” recorded narratives to have survived, for many reasons. They speak to the role of myth in the classical world; famous Greek heroes such as Gilgamesh, Herakles, and Theseus tackle “Classical Greek issues”, such as death and dying. The Greek Myths helped everyday Greeks understand the questions surrounding their lives; death, the most allusive of all ideologies.

As with the early Greeks, most individuals of that time period, CA. 2200 BCE—135 CE, saw death as an individual experience. With the advent of Christianity, arose the concept of an apocalypse; an all-consuming, world-wide event capable of destroying all of humanity. Even with this idea of Apocalypse, many cultures and ethnicities stood by their “individual death experience” and continue to follow “traditional” funerary practices; “traditional” for their people. This narrative will address one such “early” funerary practice or “technology”, which is depicted in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead”; a cryptic collection of instructions for prominent, “Royal” Egyptians to succeed in the afterlife, an afterlife travel guide if-you-will. The “Book of the Dead” (1) was not a mass-produced collective of funerary technology; but rather, a catalog of hymns, epithets and spells tailored exclusively to protect the owner, and his family, and magically assure their continued existence in the afterlife and unencumbered journey in the Underworld. Outside being written on papyrus scroll, these funerary directives, or texts, could also be found inscribed on the inner surfaces of coffins or tomb walls. (2) The “Book of the Dead” most often written in hieroglyphic script and illustrated with vignettes, was placed in the coffin or burial tomb.

Pic2. An authentic “Book of the Dead”, on display at the British Museum, Nov. 2010

Each individual “Book of the Dead”, contained spells, some to be spoken during the embalming or mummification of the body of the deceased; others to ensure their safety, and yet others allowing the deceased to engage in the world around him. Egyptian funerary technology of the time would have placed great emphasis on the process of mummification. Mummification was seen as a means of preserving the body of the deceased for future use in the afterlife. To stop decomposition of the body, the internal organs were remove and weighed, and the body cavity was washed with a mixture of palm wine and various spices. Next, the body cavity was dried with natron, a chemical much like today’s baking soda followed by returning the prepared internal organs to the body cavity. Natron would have been applied to the skin of the deceased; again, as a drying and preservation agent. Next, the body would have been wrapped with clean linen cloth; often, with spells written on them and finally sealed with resin. This same resin was then used to seal the coffin lid; protecting the deceased from insects.

Cites:

  1. Lopez-Ruiz, Carolina (2014). Gods, Heroes, and Monsters, New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 1. London, England: Universitym of California Press.
  3. Dunn, Jimmy (22 August 2011). “An Overview of Mummification in Ancient Egypt”. Retrieved 9 November 2013.

Pic1. Detail from the book of the dead of Sesostris, 15th century b.c. (Vienna, Austria]).

Pic2. Robertson, Graema. The Guardian 2010. In Pictures: the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead at           the British Museum.

TED Talks

As the story goes, in 1984, a group of “deep thinkers” along with Bill Gates of Microsoft notoriety, and of course his philanthropy, gathered to discuss how to engage the global community in collaborative conversation of powerful ideas worth sharing; witnessed, the birth of “TED Talks”. TED Talks, (technology, entertainment, and design), began as a conference of powerful short lectures, around 18 minutes or less, covering a host of varied topics from science to business to global issues. TED’s agenda “was to make great ideas accessible and spark conversation” by bringing “the authority on the topic” to the worldwide audience (1). Since its inception, the business of TED has grown into a diverse nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation offering a broad platform of media spreading “great ideas”. Now a global community, the business of TED, has branched into: TED.com, an index of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers; TED Talks, live conferences currently available in person, via the world wide web as a video library, or to eager listening audiences on select public radio stations; TEDx, independently run local community events; and TED Studies, offering a deeper understanding of structured educational topics in the form of TED-Ed lesson series and TED Books. Currently, an expanded version of TED Studies is available by license for academic settings designed to help students, professors, and self-guided learners explore important, timely ideas. True to its mission, TED’s guiding staff continue to seek out new avenues to reach as many people as possible with TED’s message; as communication evolves, so will TED.

When faced with the idea of discussing “media comparison” as a topic, my attention was immediately drawn to TED.com and TED Talks (from here forward simply known as TED). It occurred to me that TED was acting as a “double agent”; a double medium, if you will. The first, is as a collective medium; store housing “free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers”(1).  Because of TED’s unbiased selection of ideas from a broad spectrum of science, business, and global issues, in over 100 languages from around the world, it can narrow its collective works to those ideas shared by the experts working in those areas. Much like the “digital self” archived online in Watson’s Studying the Digital Self (2), TED, as a collective medium, utilizes the World Wide Web to archive its vast store house of powerful ideas from across the global community; the best from the best, if you will.

The second form of medium is as a distributive medium. TED takes advantage of multiple avenues of distribution; the most far-reaching and timely, of course, being the internet; free access to powerful information by anyone with a personal computer or a local library. TED is also available in person, in communities, as local TEDx events. For those that prefer a more intimate medium, some of the TED topics are available as TED Books for personal reading. Finally, for academic distribution, professional educators, seeking to expose their students to a deeper understanding of a TED topic, can turn to TED studies; a structured, instructional medium. TED’s multiple avenues of access make it a quick and easy resource of up-to-date information on the topic at hand. For example, recent in class discussion of the OkCupid(3) dating site and online dating in general had me searching “online love” in the TED search box. First up, The Mathematics of Love, by mathematician Hannah Frey; in her TED Talk(1) and TED Book she explored the role of mathematics in successful online dating. In fact, she cites OkCupid and the fact that it was started by a group of mathematicians. She further goes on to show how mathematics plays an important role in the success of dating and even more importantly how it may give us insight into avoiding divorce.

In another class, we discussed the role of robots as a replacement for love and companionship prompted by the reading Alone Together (4). In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle (4) explores the idea of robots as companions but she also developed the idea of robots as a necessity to the care of future elderly. Until recently, robotic assistance of the elderly was merely an idea. According to Ken Goldberg (5) of Berkeley, a roboticist in a TED Talk: 4 lessons from robots about being human, thanks to cloud computing, it is now possible to control mobility and manipulation of robots to carry out complex motions. Difficult tasks, such as picking up an object without crushing it, were impossible prior to the processing power of cloud computing. In fact, thanks to the development of an extraordinary algorithm called “deep learning” by Geoffrey Hinton from the University of Toronto (6) (presented in a TED talk), computer driven robots are learning by doing and one major step closer to near  human performance. But “deep learning” has its negative aspects; as it turns out, it is only as good as the initial information put into the algorithm. Left alone, the initial inputs may not be enough to lead “deep learning” down a safe and productive path. This can be demonstrated today in “deep learning” computer’s used for tissue sample slide review. During analysis of “PAP test” tissue samples, computer analysis failed to correctly diagnose cancer possibilities; failures as a direct result of the computer’s inability to question subtle discrepancies it may or may not have reviewed. And, just for arguments sake, let’s say computer driven robots meet and exceed human performance, what will become of the human services jobs replaced by “deep learning” robots? Will we be better off as a society by having caretakers of our aging population replaced by robots? Or, will this answer the caretaker shortage projected for the future?

As our world appears more complex, mostly from the discovery of intricacies that already exist, we look for guidance from those “in-the-know”, the “experts” if you will. The guidance we seek often presents itself as a question and answer dialog in the beginning; a collective meeting of the minds. We pose questions of safety, reliability, security, and more when introduced to new concepts to the point that new hypotheticals arise and are credited or discredited. As long as it is human nature to grow in our knowledge of life, we will look to reliable forms of media to access the latest and most thought provoking ideas and certainly the answers to our questions. Personally, I draw comfort in knowing that TED.com is a reliable access to the latest ideas from those with the most up-to-date insight; stimulating global dialog.

Cites:

  1. TED.com. February 2015. Web.
  2. Watson, Julia and Smith, Sidonie. “Studying the Digital Self.” 2014. Chronicle.com. Web.
  3. Rudder, Christian. “The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures.” OkTrends. OkCupid, 20 January 2010. Web.
  4. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011.
  5. Goldberg, Ken. “4 lessons from robots about being human.” TED.com/talks/ken_goldberg. February 2012. Web.
  6. ward, Jeremy. “The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn.” TED.com/talks/jeremy_howard. December 2014. Web