Do unwrapped mummies smell icky?

Whenever I’ve asked this question to somebody, I always seem to get the response “they probably just smell a bit musty by now”.

Well, on Friday my mom surprised me by taking me to the Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital, where they were cleaning salt deposits from their 2,500 year old resident mummy, Padihershef. This was kind of my dream come true, because I’ve always wanted to see an unwrapped mummy up close and in person.

Anyway, upon stepping into the Ether Dome, I noticed that it smelled a bit, well…funny in there. It was a very mild smell, so mild that my mom didn’t notice it, but it definitely smelled different from the air directly outside the room. It was kind of a combination of a musty smell and a sort of sweet putrefaction-like smell…but it was so mild that it was completely tolerable.

Of course, I know that mummies don’t undergo putrefaction but rather dessication, but surely dead flesh, no matter how old, isn’t going to smell like a rose garden, right?

It comes down to the spices. Beef jerky smells pretty good.

Actually, now that you mention beef jerky, that raises another question of mine: could a person safely eat a mummy without getting sick, since all of the potentially bacteria-harboring fluids are gone from the body? Not that I would ever eat a mummy! The idea is revolting to me, but if, perhaps, somebody were lost in the Atacama desert and happened upon a naturally-dessicated mummy, would it be safe to eat?

As far as non-mummy factors, could a dehumidifier or dessicants create a smell in themselves?

Eating mummies? Humans did that. Mummies were used in medicine. Hell, people painted with ground mummies and possibly used them as locomotive fuel. Note that not all of these mummies were necessarily human.

Excellent recent article in the Journal of Art in Society on mummy brown and other non-funereal popular uses of mummies.

Also, for the hell of it, from the article’s strong reference list, a web site for a company that will consign a loved one’s cremains to artists who will create a special memento.

At my high school, we had a mummified Native American boy, kept on the top shelf of a closet. There was no dehumidification or other climate control, other than steam heat in the winter. We would take him down and look at him, and I don’t remember any odor.

That…is…awesome! What did he look like? How well preserved was he? How did your school get him?

Good thing they didn’t build a house on him.

That’s … freaky. :eek:

I didn’t notice that the mummy room in the Cairo museum smelled any different, despite being pretty full of mummies. of course, they were under glass, but probably not sealed tight.

Nor did the “practice room” full of mummified animals smell. (My favourite was the little card beside a mummified crocodile, explaining that it has been carefully preserved using a turpentine enema. That one was probaby not edible…)

i assume a lot of the volatiles in any preserving medium would have evaporated over 3000+ years.

I avoid ingesting enemas of any sort.

I wouldn’t expect any “off” odors from them. You don’t get any putrid odors from leather, and that’s basically mummified animal skin (I’m aware that the two processes are completely different).

Obviously they’ve been completely desiccated by both the mummification process and the intervening thousands of years. In addition the bodies were treated with spices and perfumes during and after mummification. If anything I’d expect them to smell good.

Depends on how the mummies are currently stored.

It is possible that, once unwrapped and put in a more humid atmosphere, they could begin to deteriorate after being stable for thousands of years - and, in so doing, start to smell bad.