Ancient Egyptian mummies are no more a thing of the past. In a first-of-its-kind scientific study, British scientists will attempt to mummify the body of a recently deceased Devon taxi driver.
The project, intended to test out knowledge of a chemical process used 3,000 years ago by the Egyptians, will be carried out on the body of Alan Billis, 61, from Torquay.
Billis, who died in January of this year, read a news story about a mummification project and decided to donate his body to the experiment, after his death. His wife and three children backed him completely.
"He just said, 'I've just phoned someone up about being mummified...'. I thought, 'here we go again.' It's just the sort of thing you would expect him to do," said his wife, Jan.
The mummification process will be revealed on a Channel 4 documentary, "Mummifying Alan: Egypt's Last Secret" and will be screened on October 24. Viewers can see Billis' body turned into a mummy over the period of a few months. His body will be preserved with the same techniques used to preserve Tutankhamen's body, after the young King's death in 1323 BC.
Dr. Stephen Buckley, who has spent many years uncovering those techniques, and archaeologist Dr. Jo Fletcher, used modern equipment to identify materials such as beeswax, oils and resins used in the process.
Initially, Billis' corpse was immersed in a salt bath for more than a month and his skin was covered in oils. The body was then wrapped in linen and after three months of drying, the process was judged to be complete.
"It's turned current understanding, including my own, completely on its head," said Dr Buckley.
The deceased had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer when he heard about the search for a body donor.
"I was reading the paper and there was a piece that said 'volunteer wanted with a terminal illness to donate their body to be mummified'," he said, to the documentary team.
"People have been leaving their bodies to science for years and if people don't volunteer for anything nothing gets found out," he added.
The Billis' mummy is expected to stay in Sheffield's Medico-Legal Centre until the end of 2011. It will then be studied by scientists researching decomposition. They believe the results may help in developing an alternative to formaldehyde in the preservation of tissue.