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MLA Full: "Mummy Brains." YouTube, uploaded by thebrainscoop, 18 February 2015,
MLA Inline: (thebrainscoop, 2015)
APA Full: thebrainscoop. (2015, February 18). Mummy Brains [Video]. YouTube.
APA Inline: (thebrainscoop, 2015)
Chicago Full: thebrainscoop, "Mummy Brains.", February 18, 2015, YouTube, 07:35,
Mummies: Images of the Afterlife will begin touring in September, 2015. Stay tuned to see them visiting a museum near you!

Major thanks to JP Brown and the staff of the Regenstein Pacific Lab for allowing us to document the beginnings of their conservation work.
Here are some more posts about JP Brown, mummies, and his amazingly creative lab:

Come hang out in our Subreddit:
Twitters: @ehmee
Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Camera:
Tom McNamara

Theme music:
Michael Aranda

Created By:
Hank Green

Production Assistant:
Katie Kirby

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Our transcribers and translators Caitrin McCullough, Martina Šafusová, and Tony Chu can eat away at our brains any day! Not actually though. 'Cuz... then they'd be, you know, zombies.
(Brain Scoop Intro)

Emily: We're here with JP Brown who is the conservator of Pacific Anthropology in the Regenstein Lab here at the Field Museum but today we're not talking about Pacific Anthropology.

JP: No, today we're talking about Egypt.

Emily: And kind of ancient Egypt. 

JP: Yeah, pretty ancient Egypt. What we're looking at here is the Mummy of Pen Ptah, the male from the twenty-fifth dynasty, about 2700 years ago, something like that. 

Emily: That seems pretty ancient to me. 

JP: It is fairly ancient.

Emily: What are we doing with an Egyptian artifact today?

JP: What we're trying to do is understand more about how Egyptian culture works. The really interesting thing about studying burials is that you don't bury yourself. 

Emily: Right!

JP: It's exactly what society thinks is what happens because you get no say at all in the end. It's really fascinating to see how this incredibly long and intense tradition of mummification actually changes over the years. Everybody knows the thing about, you know, canopic jars and taking the organs out and put them in but starting at about this period, the canopic jar starts to fade out. It's not really much of a thing anymore. Instead the organs are wrapped up and put back inside the mummy. 

Emily: Oh. So does this individual have the organ jars with it, or did it, or are the organs wrapped up and inside the body? 

JP: As far as we, we suspect that they're wrapped up and inside the body but we haven't done x-radiography on this specimen yet so we don't know. what we'd expect to find is there's a number of packets inside the body.

Emily: Kind of just like a chicken when you get it at the grocery store and it's got the gizzard bits in it.

JP: Well yes, except that you're not planing to take them out and...

Emily: Make a stew.

JP: Make gravy of them.

Emily: Oh gross. 

JP: What we know about mummification is that it's a fairly elite activity, so it's the top 5% or something like that and to preserve the body they took the brain out, they opened up to make an incision of the lower left hand side of the abdomen and then removed most of the internal organs. Part of the removal of the brain involved punching through the nose. There's a story that they took the brains out with hooks but you've handled brains so...

Emily: Yeah, brains are not like intestines. 

JP: You're right. It's not like silly putty where you could squeeze it out through a hole. It seems to me it's likely they used something like turpentine to try and digest it a bit.

Emily: And then it just goops out.

JP: And then pour it out essentially. 

Emily: Disgusting mucus.

JP: Having done all that, the body having been packed in natron for something like 40 days, then the mummy would be assembled and wrapped.

Emily: So it would be in a tomb for some period of time and then...

JP: It would just stay there forever. 

Emily: Forever until...

JP: It was the plan...

Emily: It was the plan until who came along and upset this?

JP: So you've got tomb robbers, you've got people reusing tombs, maybe a tombs fallen into disuse and people are like, ooh free tomb. Then you've got archaeologists coming in and excavating.

Emily: Yeah. Kind of coming in and wanting to make observations and so that's how it ended up at the Field Museum. 

JP: We acquired it from the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. 

Emily: Ok. 

JP: What we don't have, alas, is the story before that. 

Emily: What was the purpose of taking this sarcophagus and tomb and coffin out of storage and into the lab today?

JP: So, we're preparing this mummy for a touring exhibit that we've got called Mummies: Images of the After Life. What we're going to be talking about here is the ways that people messed mummies about before we had modern imaging technologies like x-ray and CT.

Emily: Oh, so what not to do with mummies. 

JP: Right. Before the 1920s this was pretty much the only way of getting in there and finding anything out. 

Emily: And you mean the only way being actually doing invasive, kind of investigative work.

JP: Right, so you can see that the outside of the wrappings have been totally removed to reveal the inner wrappings and then my guess is they kind of buried around in there to try and see what they could see. Also you can see that basically the head's fallen off. 

Emily: Yeah, I kind of noticed it was missing. It has lost it's head.

JP: The problem with unwrapping is that the final layer of bandage is usually adhered on with resin and when you try and unwrap that, usually what happens is it gives at the neck and the head comes off. 

Emily: So when do you think that those first invasive attempts to figure out what was going on, when did that happen?

JP: So I think what was happening when they were collecting mummies in the late 19th Century, was that they were really looking for Museum ready exhibits. 

Emily: Have you come across any surprises in opening it up today? 

JP: There's this painting on the bottom of the outer coffin, goddess of the sky Nut.

Emily: And that was pretty traditional right? That they would paint this figure on because she's supposed to sweep you off to the next world.

JP: Right, she's quite often embracing people from behind.

Emily: Well that doesn't sound so bad. 

JP: Yeah, give you a bit of a hug when you die.

Emily: Yeah, well, you know.

JP: And then we did find some beetles inside the coffin so we're going to have to...

Emily: Beetles?

JP: Yeah, we're going to have to identify those.

Emily: Are these Museum beetles or are these Egyptian beetles? 

JP: We don't know yet. 

Emily: Oh.

(One week later)

Emily: So we're back. Unexpectedly. In JP's Lab. Because there's been new developments in the mummy conservation project. 

JP: So when we were working on the mummy itself, what we found was that unlike the majority of late Egyptian human mummies, the brain hasn't been removed. 

Emily: There's no brain scooped. 

JP: Right, the brain was unscooped. This is what we found. 

Emily: Ewww.

JP: This is dried Egyptian brains.

Emily: Can I hold this? 

JP: Yeah sure.

Emily: Oh gosh. I'm holding old brain. These are the oldest brains I've ever held. 

JP: What we also found mixed in with the brains...

Emily: Yeah, I'm nervous holding those, a little bit.

JP: Was these blowfly casings. So there was something in there eating the brain.

Emily: Eating the brain. And you think this was at or around the time that the mummy was mummified or before?

JP: Before. We think this guy actually decomposed a bit before they got him into the mummification.

Emily: Isn't that kind of counter to how we thought the dead were treated?

JP: Well, I think it probably depends a bit how far away you are from mummification facilities when you die. But not just flies eating your brain then dermestids eating the flies. These are flesh eating beetles. 

Emily: These are the same flesh eating beetles that Annie uses in her lab upstairs?

JP: Actually they're different species but the same family. 

Emily: Same family. So those are like 2500 year old dermestid beetles? 

JP: Yeah, something like that. Maybe even a little older. Once trying to think about what circumstances this could happen in, I mean maybe you died when you were often on your own somewhere, people don't find you for a bit, you know it's kind of interesting, we'd like to know what the story is but I guess we never will. 

Emily: Well you never know. Maybe the more work that you're doing on this guy, the more secrets he will reveal as time goes on. 

JP: Could be. 

Emily: Or maybe someone will just hand you a hieroglyphic plate...

JP: A scroll

Emily: Yeah and it will reveal all the secrets. Maybe it's the real King Tut, I don't know. It's just a little conjecture.

JP: It's a bit late.

Emily: Yeah. Are these all of the brains or...?

JP: That's all we got. So, that doesn't look like all the brain that you would have left if you dried a brain but of course the insects ate some so...

Emily: So the dermestids ate some brain and the blowflies...

JP: The blowflies, my guess ate the brain and then the dermestids ate the blowflies. 

Emily: Wow. It's a bug eat bug world inside the cranium of a mummy. 

JP: Yep. 

Emily: It's really exciting. Cool.

(Brain Scoop Outro)

Emily: It still has brains on it.