Sunday, July 8, 2018

josie’s world, my world: deer, porcupine, a soybean menu, and adipocere revisited

Josie’s been negotiating property rights with a deer.


And one evening Josie spotted a porcupine by the kitchen stoop. I was elsewhere, but he let me know I might want to look at this thing here and when I saw what it was, I picked up Josie, took him inside, got my camera, went back out.


And as I contemplated writing a book about wax, which of course brought to mind all the times I have contemplated writing a book about anything at all as well all the times I have not written a book about anything at all, I began revisiting my wax posts, taking it from the top, just to see if there was something there (there is always something there, the question is, what is it? what to do with it?), and if nothing else my interest in the topic grew deeper. Which is how I came to learn that in 1941 the Ford Motor Company created a car touted as being made from soybeans, a “soy car.” Apparently Henry Ford was a soybean fanatic and you, too, can see some fun pictures and read all about it at Henry Ford: Soybeans and Henry Ford and His Employees: Work with Soy. For some reason, I found this menu more interesting than the car.


Suffice to say that with this topic of wax I realized there was a bit more to delve into. Which is how I got back to adipocere, the wax our bodies create after we’re dead, and that story about Dr. Granville’s big mistake, mistaking adipocere (which apparently wasn’t something anyone knew about in Granville’s time, two hundred years ago) for beeswax and making candles from the stuff (the stuff he had scraped from the insides of a very old Egyptian mummy that he had unwrapped, dissected, studied, diagnosed, apparently in his own home) and subsequently lighting a lecture hall with said candles while he made a presentation on said mummy and his findings. I found the article he wrote on the mummy and as well the subsequent paper from 2009 that re-examined the mummy, leading to the summation that what Granville took to be beeswax was actually adipocere. I have not yet read the 2009 paper, but I did read Granville’s. I had to look up a few words to get a better grasp on what he was saying, but, all in all, I found it fascinating. Whether it’s more good stuff for a book or not, I don’t know. Whether I actually have the discipline or whatever it is one needs to write something longer than, say, a blog post, I don’t know. Whether the end result of any such effort would be any good, or of interest to anyone else, which, judging by my experience talking to folks at the farmers market and gauging at what point they lose interest in the broader topic of wax, well. Stop now. But, I don’t know. And of course there’s really only one way to find out.

According to Granville, the beeswax made its way into the mummy, the dead body, thus helping to preserve it, by virtue of embalmers soaking it in a bath of wax and bitumen.
To have penetrated thus far, and to have lodged between closely adhering membraneous folds, this mixture must either have been injected quite warm into the cavity of the abdomen, or the body itself must have been plunged into a vessel containing a liquefied mixture of wax and bitumen, and there kept for some hours or days, over a gentle fire.
He goes on about this probability, turns it into an almost undeniable fact, and sums up
that admirable method of embalming, devised and followed by the ancient Egyptians, which my inquiries have been directed to ascertain, and which may be summed up in a few words by saying: that it consisted in impregnating the body with bees wax.
Granville conducts his own experiments with the soak-em-in-beeswax-over-a-gentle-fire embalming method that lend a certain amount of proof, or, shall we say, well, maybe. But he was wrong. Or so they say now. But still, he made candles from the wax he found in a mummy, whatever it was—beeswax, human wax—and the candles burned and no one knew.

A drawing of the head of the mummy Granville unwrapped, dissected, and wrote about.
From the aforementioned article in Philosophical Transactions, Royal Society Publishing, January 1825.