Four deathhacks for an Egyptian mummy

A deathhack is a technique employed to make efficient or functional use of human remains.   Since people frequently discover human bones, heads, and mummies at garage sales, in luggage, or in the forgotten corner of an attic, it’s important to find uses for these remains and not let them become clutter.

Now most people would donate these found human remains to a museum or a university, but these institutions would just store or study them.  Others may want to bury the bones and mummies they accidentally find, but this would create more problems in the long run since many cemeteries face overcrowding.  The functional uses for human remains can trump their historical or sentimental value.

Below are 4 deathhacks for your spare Egyptian mummy pulled from the headlines or history books.  Any kind of mummy (i.e. bog or natural) can be used for some of these deathhack ideas, but a couple of them specifically require an Egyptian mummy

Halloween Decoration

This is the most obvious use for an authentic mummy.  Using a mummy that was inherited or purchased inexpensively at garage sale will save on decorating costs.    This may seem ridiculous, but operators of amusement parks and haunted attractions have unwittingly used human remains as decorations for years. The case of Elmer McCurdy, train robber and outlaw, is the most famous example.

After Elmer McCurdy (1880-1911) died in a shoot out in Oklahoma, his body was taken to a local undertaker who embalmed the corpse and displayed it as “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up.”  The undertaker collected a nickel from people who wanted to view the remains, but relinquished it to a carnival owner who came through town claiming to be Elmer’s brother.  Over the years the mummified corpse was sold to several carnivals and amusement parks.  People eventually forgot about Elmer McCurdy and thought that his mummified corpse was a wax dummy.

In December 1976, a crew member working on the set of a TV show at an amusement park made a grisly discovery when he moved what he thought was a wax mannequin.  The “mannequin’s” arm broke off, and he discovered that the arm belonged to authentic mummified human remains.  The mummy was taken to the medical examiner, and when he opened its mouth he found a 1924 penny and a ticket from Sonney Amusement’s Museum of Crime in Los Angeles.  That ticket led to other clues that helped researchers to positively identify the body of Elmer McCurdy. He was finally laid to rest in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma on April 22nd 1977.   Concrete was poured over his his casket to prevent anyone from stealing his remains.

Left: Elmer McCurdy before embalming.  Right: Elmer McCurdy's mummy.  Photo credit: Altas Obscura

Left: Elmer McCurdy before embalming. Right: Elmer McCurdy’s mummy. Photo credit: Altas Obscura.  Click here to see more images

Auto Theft Deterrent

Mummies make fantastic theft deterrents when they are stored in cars, as a Liverpool man found out Sunday night.  Dean Patton, who founded a heritage group that works with museums, stored a replica of an Iron Age bog body in the trunk of his car after an event at the Museum of Liverpool.  Patton then went to a function at a conservatory, and while there a thief broke into his car.  The thief stole an iPad, but was deterred from stealing anything else when he discovered the replica of the bog body in the trunk of the car.

Replica of Iron Age bog mummy used as a theft deterrent in Liverpool. Image credit: Liverpool Echo.

Replica of Iron Age bog mummy used as a theft deterrent in Liverpool. Image credit: Liverpool Echo.

Art Supplies

Mummy brown was a rich brown pigment made from the ground-up remains of Egyptian mummies.  It became popular in the 16th century and was one of the favorite colors of the Pre-Raphaelites artists.  Color-makers used Egyptian mummies because of the bitumen that ancient Egyptians used in the embalming process.  Artists believed that when bitumen and mummified flesh were used in oil paint it wouldn’t crack or dry.

In the 19th century mummy brown became less popular when artists realized what it was made of.  Some artists even held funerals for their tubes of paint.  In 1964, TIME magazine reported that one of London’s most well-known art suppliers, C Roberson and Co, stopped selling mummy brown.  Geoffrey Roberson-Park, managing director of C Roberson, “We might have a few odd limbs lying around somewhere,” he apologized, “but not enough to make any more paint. We sold our last complete mummy…”

Man selling Egyptian mummies seller ca. 1875.  Photo via Wikipedia

Man selling Egyptian mummies seller ca. 1875. Photo via Wikipedia


The ground up remains of Egyptian mummies got a reputation for possessing superior medicinal properties in the Middle Ages. Medieval doctors and healers believed that the chemicals used by ancient Egyptians in the embalming process gave the remains medicinal value.  They used mumia, the powder made from ground mummies, in preparations and compresses.  For example, medieval medicinal recipe for a compress to relieve nosebleeds called for a compress made of a mummy bit and the juice of an herb.

Doctors and pharmacies sold mumia as late as 1908, when it was still sold in the catalogue of E. Merck, a pharmaceutical and healthcare company.

Wooden container containing mumia, the powdered remains of Egyptian mummies. Photo from Wikipedia.

Wooden container containing mumia, the powdered remains of Egyptian mummies. Photo from Wikipedia.


Harvey, S. (2011 July 3).  Inept train robber had an unimpressive life but a celebrated afterlife.  LA Times.  Retrieved on February 25, 2014 from:

Johnson, Mark. (2014 February 24).  Replica mummified body believed to have scared off thief.  Liverpool Echo.  Retrieved on February 25, 2014 from:

McCouat P. (2013).   “The life and death of Mummy Brown”, Art in Society.  Retrieved on February 25, 2014 from:

Than, K.  (2007 April 4).  Joan of Arc Relics are Fake.  February 22, 2014 from:


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Categories: Archaeology

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6 replies

  1. Ground up remains? Wow, where’s the plain old fashioned respect gone to? How about a simple potter’s grave? I hate that whole image in my head.

  2. Shared to my face book page… really paint… just cant get over this one?????


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