Some of us will carefully check the labels on most of the products we use, scrutinizing them to see if we can find some suspicious ingredients listed. The rest of us do not care and just use these products anyway. But how would you feel if you discovered that your food or body lotion contained human body parts?
Sure, you would cringe. Well! It used to be the norm a few centuries ago—at a time when products did not have ingredient labels. Many people unwittingly turned cannibal after ingesting food items made from human remains. Others just used regular products that contained human remains without being aware of it.
More products containing human secretions and body parts are still being developed today. But fear not! You will probably not be ingesting food made from human body parts without knowing about it.
Mummy brown was a thing a few centuries ago. Also called mommia and momie, it was actually the name of a brown paint used by artists. As you should have guessed, the paint was made from Egyptian mummies. Manufacturers created it by grinding mummies into powder and mixing them with some other stuff.
Mummy brown first appeared in the 16th century and quickly became a favorite of artists, who used it in their paintings as if it were just another paint. Interestingly, some manufacturers also made it from any corpse that had mummified enough. French artist Martin Drolling even used mummy brown made from dead French kings.
The use of mummy brown declined in the 20th century when most artists discovered its origin. However, it only went “extinct” in 1964 after manufacturers could not get fresh supplies of mummies to make the paint.
A few centuries ago, many Europeans turned into unwitting cannibals after consuming medicines made with the bones, blood, and fats of living and dead people.
People of the day believed that these medicines cured a wide range of ailments. Skulls were ground into powder to make medicine for almost every problem with the head. Usnea, a moss that often appeared on buried human skulls, was used to stop nosebleeds and cure epilepsy.
Body fat was applied to the skin to cure medical problems like gout. Bandages were also soaked in fat before they were used to cover wounds. Egyptians mummies were not spared, either. They were ground into powder to produce a medicine that supposedly cured internal bleeding.
People without any medical issues also used the medicines due to the erroneous belief that the healthiness of the dead could be passed to them. One such believer was the English King Charles II, who drank a mixture of ground human skull and alcohol to maintain his health. The drink was called “the king’s drops.”
Fresh blood from a living person was also added to cooked food or just drunk to remain healthy. Many poor people who could not afford a living human’s blood often attended public executions with cups to siphon fresh blood from the executed person.
The act of using human body parts as medicine reached its height between the 16th and 17th centuries and started to die down in the 18th century. It had disappeared by the 20th century.