It’s a myth that the ancient Egyptians pulled mummy brains out by their noses — they probably scrambled them instead, says one expert who’s tried it

An image of Amenhotep's mummy, as seen in the Cairo museum.

The royal mummy of Amenhotep I, the second pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, in April 2006, in the Cairo Museum, Egypt.Patrick Landmann/Getty Images

  • There’s a good chance you’ve been told that the ancient Egyptians popped pieces of their brains out their noses.

  • Experiments suggest there was a much easier way to do it: scramble brains, said one expert.

  • It’s likely that the embalmers used hooks to liquefy the brains and pour them out, he said.

Contrary to what you learned in school, ancient Egyptian embalmers probably didn’t extract pieces of brains using hooks when they were preparing a corpse for the afterlife.

The experiments suggest they likely used a much more effective, if nastier, method, said Stephen Buckley, an expert who studies mummification.

Buckley, an archaeologist and analytical chemist at the University of York, told Insider that he has been conducting experiments on sheep to test ways in which the brain could be removed.

The work was part of a 2008 History Channel documentary “Mummy Forensics” which took inspiration from a 1969 academic paper by British Egyptologist Filce Leek.

He found that digging the brain into pieces wasn’t very easy.

“‘Snapping it into chunks isn’t particularly efficient/successful,” he told Insider in an email.

It could be “slowly removed as small parts of the brain adhered to the metal hook through repeated insertions and removals,” he said. But, even better, “liquidating the brain makes its removal simple enough.”

“If you poke the brain with a hook for about 20 minutes, the brain liquefies and you can just pour it out,” Buckley said in a later interview.

“It’s not very pretty, but it’s a much more effective way to remove the brain.”

An image shows a cross section of Amenhotep's mummy inside his face

A CT scan revealed that Pharaoh Amenhotep I’s brain was still in place when he was buriedS. Saleem and Z. Nuwass

There are times when brains have been left in, Buckley said.

“Particularly with the earlier royal mummies, which are still quite well preserved, they actually left the brain in place in situ, so they didn’t have to be removed,” he said.

The Egyptians at that time might not have known about microbes, but they surely understood that the removal of organs had a profound effect in slowing the decay of the body.

If they could afford it, Egyptians would always have their bowels, lungs, and other internal organs removed and treated to preserve them. In some cases they were placed in jars, in others they were put back into the body.

The brain, however, could be left in the body to mummify inside the skull during the embalming process.

For example, Pharaoh Thutmose I, Queen Tiye, the principal wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and Pharaoh Amenhotep I have all been found with brain tissue still in place.

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