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See C. G. Strub and L. G. Frederick, Principles and Practice of Embalming (4th ed. 1967).
(from balsam; the term originated from the fact that in antiquity aromatic substances and tars were used to embalm corpses), the steps taken to prevent a dead body from decomposing.
In embalming, all the body tissues are soaked in antiseptics and preservatives that hinder the activity of putrefactive bacteria and block the spontaneous disintegration of tissues. Embalming is performed for pedagogical, scientific, and legal purposes and to preserve the bodies of outstanding persons. Various methods are used, some to preserve the body temporarily, others to do so indefinitely. In antiquity embalming was done with balsams, a variety of plant fluids that prevent putrefaction. The creators of embalming were the ancient Egyptians, who for religious reasons did not bury the dead. There is no extant accurate description of the method they used. It is known that after the viscera and brain were removed, the body was soaked in various aromatic substances (such as myrrh and senna), wrapped in linens moistened with glue and gum, and allowed to dry (mummification). This method markedly altered the color and size of the tissues but preserved the body (mummy) for centuries.
In the Middle Ages, embalming was performed only to preserve bodies in burial vaults or to transport them to distant burial grounds. Among the embalming substances used were mercury salts (corrosive sublimate), arsenic compounds, zinc salts, alcohol, and other antiseptics usually injected into the blood vessels. Embalming fluids combining antiseptics and preservatives were widely used in the 19th century.
At the end of the century formaldehyde began to be used, and it led to the development of new and effective methods of embalming. Of particular interest is the method suggested by N. F. Mel’nikov-Razvedenkov (1893). It involves fixing the tissues with formaldehyde and soaking them in 96° alcohol and an aqueous solution of glycerin and potassium acetate. Bodies thus embalmed were preserved a long time. In 1924 the Russians V. P. Vorob’ev and B. I. Zbarskii devised a new method (subsequently improved by S. R. Mardashev) which was successfully used to embalm Lenin’s body and, in 1949, G. Dimitrov’s body.
S. S. DEBOV