The beginnings of modern Egyptology
In the tombs, not only have the faces of many wall images been altered or destroyed, but the crimes against African mummies are almost beyond description. There is a tradition dating back to at least 1000 A.D. in which Arabs and later Europeans engaged in the practice of "eating mummy." This practice was widespread in Egypt and Western Europe and it consisted of countless ancient African mummies being burned, ground up and made into a kind of powder in order to be eaten. This incredible act of cannibalism was considered an effective medical practice and folk remedy. The belief became widely prevalent that cures could be obtained by eating ground-up preserved bodies. "Eating mummy" was considered effective in treating contusions, coughs, epilepsy, migraines, ulcers, cases of poison, and as a general panacea.
Mummies or fragments of mummies were taken from their tombs and sent to Cairo and Alexandria, where merchants sent the ground-up parts all over Western Europe. In the European Middle Ages and Renaissance mummy trafficking was widespread. Egyptian mummies were so sought after that the chaplain to Queen Catherine Medici of France made a special trip to Egypt in 1549 and, together with some physicians from Italy, broke into a number of tombs around Sakkara in a quest for mummies to use in various medicines. Catherine's father-in-law, King Francis I of France, also carried ground-up mummy in a pouch around his waist at all times in case of an emergency.
The mummy madness was such that if a genuine ancient Egyptian mummy were not available, local Arabs would use the corpses of executed criminals or those who had died from disease. They used these modern substitutes to meet the high demand for mummy powder, despite the protest against this barbaric practice by some physicians, among them the French surgeon Ambroise Pare', who stated, "It causes great pain in their stomachs, gives them evil smelling breath and brings about serious vomiting."
"Eating mummy" had a long and respectable tradition as a medicinal remedy. This uncivilized European and Arab tradition of eating mummified human flesh was part of a flourishing trade and thus did not die out until last century. It is impossible to calculate the many thousands of African mummies that ended up in the stomachs of Europeans and Arabs.