The word “embalming” comes from the Arabic term, “al-buhl.” It was introduced in Egypt sometime around 2600 BC when it was discovered that mummification reduced decomposition by inhibiting bacterial growth and destroying enzymes responsible for breaking down cells. Originally, embalmers used resins such as frankincense or myrrh to dry out organs before packing them with linen strips soaked in more resin. The tombs of Ancient Egyptian nobles were filled with amulets made of stone or precious metals intended to protect the body after death; these usually included an inscription detailing the spells needed for safe passage into eternity along with a list of recommended funerary offerings including food and incantations – such as, “You shall not eat bread made of emmer; you shall not drink beer brewed with barley. Instead … you will live by the everlasting laws which Pharaoh invokes on behalf of those who are joined to him…”
Modern embalming does not use resin but instead uses a mixture comprised largely of formaldehyde and other solvents in order to preserve tissues and retard decomposition. To produce this chemical cocktail, formalin (37% solution containing 37 g/L free formaldehyde), methanol or ethanol, water for injection USP and glacial acetic acid (minimum 36%) is reacted together over an extended period at room temperature (~30 min). The reaction creates paraformaldehyde – parahydroxybenzene – which reacts with water to form bis(hydroxymethyl)oxirane, a chemical that liberates free formaldehyde as it is heated. In other words, the embalming process resembles cooking and forms what are known as “gummy bears” (or gels) when cooled at ~37°C or below.
Gelatinous masses of myoglobin released from ruptured cells cause some discoloration in formalin-embalmed tissue; however, this can be reduced by placing tissues in 70% ethanol following fixation. The amount of time needed for successful preservation varies according to temperature and humidity levels in addition to how well oxygen has been excluded from body cavities during injection. Thus, it is recommended that for best results the body be placed in a sealed casket or burial vault with enough formaldehyde-saturated foam to cover all surfaces.
Periodically, water must also be added during injection of female bodies since pregnancy and menstruation increase fluid retention; however, this requires special care when embalming infants due to their smaller size which makes it more difficult to inject sufficient quantities of preservative chemicals via main vessels such as the carotid artery and jugular vein. In addition, despite being dead – blood may slowly seep from arteries into surrounding tissues after death (postmortem hemarthrosis) although this should quickly dissipate on its own within ~30 min if not treated by placing pressure over major vessels until it stops.
As you can see, embalming has come a long way since the time of mummification in Ancient Egypt and is now also used to prepare bodies for public viewings or funeral services that are held before burial or cremation (with some exceptions including Orthodox Judaism and Islam). However, it should be noted that not everyone considers this process as “embalming” anymore – especially those who use either freeze-drying or alkaline hydrolysis instead which leave no body fluids behind but only dry bones. Thus, despite its continued popularity – modern methods have been criticized by several groups due to environmental concerns over formaldehyde pollution; medical ethics issues such as furthering anatomical study without donor; lack of need if remains will be buried; and, legal concerns for failure to inform family members of the potential use of this process.
In conclusion… there are many alternatives now that can be used in place of embalming which actually preserves more than just tissues – but it also serves as a way to slow decomposition until burial or cremation when organic material is no longer needed. However, despite their benefits – some feel like these new methods fail to meet public expectations since they typically lack cosmetic effect (i.e., make-up/cosmetics) while others point out how expensive they tend to be especially considering eco-friendly options such as alkaline hydrolysis require large amounts water not found everywhere on Earth today.