Feature

The woman whose husband became a mummy

Janet Billis's husband became the first person in 3,000 years to be embalmed using ancient Egyptian techniques.

When Janet Billis’s husband told her that he’d volunteered to have his body mummified, she didn’t take him seriously, said Audrey Ward in the London Times. Alan, a British taxi driver, was always full of madcap ideas, she says, “so I didn’t pay attention.” But earlier this year, Alan, who died of lung cancer at 61, became the first person in 3,000 years to be embalmed using ancient Egyptian techniques. The process was filmed for a TV documentary. “Alan liked to be the center of attention,” she explains. “He also wanted to leave something for his grandchildren.”

The process fascinated Billis. “As soon as he died, in January, he was frozen like a pea.” In April, scientists from Britain’s York University removed his organs. He was then painted with beeswax and oil, left to soak in a saline bath for 35 days, dried out, and wrapped in bandages. Six months later, Billis visited the corpse. “I thought his body would be rock hard, but when I poked his leg and tummy they were still springy,” she says. “His fingers were bent inwards so I slid my fingers around his and it was like we were holding hands.” She found it not at all distressing. “I knew it was Alan’s body but it wasn’t really Alan. As he used to say, ‘When you’re dead you’re dead.’”

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