Former taxi driver is first person since the pharoahs to be mummified - right here in Sheffield!
A FORMER taxi driver has been mummified in Sheffield - the first person for 3,000 years since the pharaohs.
TV viewers will see the late Alan Billis turned into a mummy over a few months at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre in Shalesmoor, as his body is preserved using techniques the ancient Egyptians used on Tutankhamun.
Mr Billis had been terminally ill with cancer when he volunteered for the procedure.
Alan, aged 61, had the backing of his wife Jan, who said: “I’m the only woman in the country who’s got a mummy for a husband.”
All will be revealed in a Channel 4 documentary, Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret, to be screened on Monday.
Dr Stephen Buckley, a chemist and research fellow at York University, has spent 19 years trying to uncover the preservation techniques the Egyptians used.
Alongside archaeologist Dr Jo Fletcher, Dr Buckley studied mummified bodies, analysing tissue samples and finally putting his findings to the test on Mr Billis’s body in Sheffield.
“It’s turned current understanding, including my own, completely on its head,” said Dr Buckley.
Mr Billis, who dubbed himself ‘Tuten-Alan,’ had terminal lung cancer: “I was reading the paper and there was a piece that said ‘volunteer wanted with a terminal illness to donate their body to be mummified’,” he said.
“People have been leaving their bodies to science for years and if people don’t volunteer for anything nothing gets found out.”
Mr Billis, from Torquay in Devon, added: “Experimenting is all about trying different processes to make things work. If it doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world, is it? It doesn’t make any difference to me, I’m not going to feel it. It’s still bloody interesting.”
Mr Billis’ internal organs - including his lungs and intestines - were removed through an incision in his side and the sterilised cavity was padded with linen, but the brain was left in place.
Then the body moisture content was removed using a caustic salt, natron. Scientists immersed the corpse in a salt bath for more than a month to draw out the water. To protect the skin from the harsh salt it was covered in a special protective layer of oils.
The body was wrapped in linen, like the classic image of a mummy, protecting it from light and insects. Alan’s wife left favourite photos and drawings by his grandchildren.
After three months of drying, the process was judged complete.
The body will be kept at the Medico-Legal Centre in Sheffield until the end of the year. It is hoped it will be used for study into mummification.