Mummification is a modification of putrefaction. Dehydration or drying and shriveling of the cadaver occurs from the evaporation of water, but the natural appearances and features of the body are preserved. It begins in the exposed parts like face, hands and feet and then extends to the entire body including the internal organs.
The skin may be shrunken and contracted, dry, brittle, leathery and rusty-brown in color, stretched tightly across anatomical prominences, such as the cheek bones, chin, costal margins and hips, adheres closely to the bones, and often covered with fungal growths.
As the skin contracts, some of the fat cells in the subcutaneous tissues are broken, and the liquid oil is forced into the dermis which becomes translucent. The face will be greatly distorted due to shrinkage of soft tissues.
The entire body loses weight up to 60 to 70% becomes thin, stiff and brittle. In mummified bodies, arms are often abducted in the shoulder joints, flexed in elbow joints and hands are clenched into fists in most cases. This flexion is often seen in lower limbs also. This is due to shrinkage of muscles and tendons. Mummification may be partial in some cases, with only limbs or head or trunk being affected. Mummified tissues are dry, leathery and brown in colour.
The internal organs become shrunken, hard, dark-brown and black and become a single mass. Later due to putrefaction and maggot activity they may disappear. Collagen, elastic tissues, cardiac and skeletal muscle, cartilage, and bone are usually demonstrable histologically in the mummification material.
If a mummified body is not protected, it will break into fragments gradually, becomes powdery and disintegrates, but if protected, it may be preserved for years. Mummified bodies may be attacked by insects especially moths and larvae of various flies which destroy it. A mummified is practically odourless.
Factors necessary for the production of mummification
(1) The absence of moisture in the air, and
(2) the continuous action of dry or warmed air.
Mummification of newborn children may occur if they are left in a trunk, or a kitchen cupboard, where the atmosphere is warm and dry. Marked dehydration before death favours the development of mummification.
Mummification occurs in bodies buried in shallow graves in dry sandy soils. Where evaporation of body fluids is very rapid due to the hot dry winds in summer. Chronic arsenic or antimony poisoning is said to favour the process.
Occasionally, a body which shows evidence of mummification in certain parts may show adipocere changes in others. Thus, there may be found some adipocere in cheeks, abdomen and buttocks, and mummification of the arms and legs.
The time required for complete mummification varies from three months to a year and is influenced by the size of the body, atmospheric conditions and the place of disposal.
Medicolegal Importance : It is the same as that of adipocere.