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Author Topic: Honey, crystals and meat  (Read 1397 times)
Egyptophile
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« on: July 01, 2006, 07:33:28 AM »

Hello,
Can I ask a question that may be semi-ontopic?

under what conditions and how soon does honey crystalizes?

a) In my childhood memory (my father kept bees) it happens
within 1-2 years, also in sealed jars. As it is just crystalisation
around 'impurities' in the fluid, so no need for oxygen.
b) Someone else says that honey does not turn crystalline
unless the water in it is allowed to evaporate and that
a tightly sealed container of honey will remain in a
fluid state indefinitely.
Who is correct? a or b?

FYI:
The context is a debate about the the body of Alexander the
Great, which according to sources was conserved in honey
and kept in a crystal sarcophagus for Emperors to gaze at.
I think the honey is nonsense (think about the quantities
needed!) as it would still give internal rot in lungs
and abdomen, which would still contain water and air.
Perhaps a block of solid meat (say a ham) might be
preserved when put in an airtight container with
honey? - but a human body with cavities..?? And also,
I think the honey would crystalize under any conditions
and become a non-transparant paste, so the corpse
could not be seen in its coffin.

Thank you for your observations!

A.K. E.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2006, 11:02:09 AM »

>under what conditions and how soon does honey crystalizes?

All honey will crystallize if it has the enough of the right kinds of sugars and is dry enough.  How big the crystals will be and how long it will take varies from a week to decades.  Tupelo would be in the decades.  Goldenrod might crystallize in a week.  Soy bean seems to crystallize a lot too.

>a) In my childhood memory (my father kept bees) it happens
within 1-2 years, also in sealed jars. As it is just crystallization
around 'impurities' in the fluid, so no need for oxygen.

The time depends on the honey and the "seed" that the crystal will build on.  Bits of wax, pollen, other crystals of honey or sugar, the temperature etc.

>b) Someone else says that honey does not turn crystalline
unless the water in it is allowed to evaporate and that
a tightly sealed container of honey will remain in a
fluid state indefinitely.

Not true.

>The context is a debate about the the body of Alexander the
Great, which according to sources was conserved in honey
and kept in a crystal sarcophagus for Emperors to gaze at.
I think the honey is nonsense (think about the quantities
needed!) as it would still give internal rot in lungs
and abdomen, which would still contain water and air.

Most methods of mummification involve removing the internal organs.  Honey is a antimicrobial.  It contains enzymes that kill microbes and it contains hydrogen peroxide.  It has been used to treat wounds and to preserve food for centuries.  Since Alexander had been to (and conquered) Egypt, I would assume he would have people who knew how this was done.  Quantities are irrelevant when you rule the world.  I'm sure enough honey could be gotten from one beekeeper to completely submerge the emperor.

>Perhaps a block of solid meat (say a ham) might be
preserved when put in an airtight container with
honey?

Usually salt is also involved and possibly smoke.  The smoke is useful for keeping out the bugs, some of which LIKE the salt (I call the "salt bugs" that get into the hides I salt.  Which is why I now use borax instead).  The salt is useful for removing the water and making it inhospitable for many microbes.  The sugar is also useful as is the acidic nature of the honey.  I have preserved a lot of meat, but never with just honey.

> - but a human body with cavities..?? And also,
I think the honey would crystalize under any conditions
and become a non-transparant paste

It would crystallize.  But it would also draw a lot of moisture out of the body which would result in the honey fermenting and possibly, if the moisture content fell below supersaturated, keep it from crystallizing.

>, so the corpse
could not be seen in its coffin.

But why would you assume that it's all one thing or another?  Honey may well have been involved as were many other process, procedures and chemicals.  A "historian" might have written some of what he perceived as important which is a long way from a formula or procedure for mummification.
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Michael Bush
My website:  bushfarms.com/bees.htm
My book:  ThePracticalBeekeeper.com
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"Everything works if you let it."--Rick Nielsen
KONASDAD
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« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2006, 08:08:00 PM »

Alexander the Great was transported in a coffin filled w/ honey back to his homeland. He was thousands of miles from home. If I remember correctly, he was in the mongolian region of Asia minor. He was not interreed indefinately w/ honey, but transported back to Greece, where he was then prepared for burial. Cant recall if mummification was used.
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"The more complex the Mind, the Greater the need for the simplicity of Play".
JKJ
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2006, 07:48:30 AM »

Quote
under what conditions and how soon does honey crystalizes?


I am new at this, but I don't think there is one answer.

A gentleman told me last week about a jar of honey he has from the '50s which is still liquid.

The books I read say two things: honey will crystalize more quickly at certain temperatures and in the presence of seed crystals.  For example, Richard Taylor states that "most honeys susceptible to granulation form crystals most rapidly at about 57degF, less rapidly above and  below that."  However, he also stathes that honeys differ greatly in their tendency to crystalize, indicating honey from trees (basswood, tupelo, black locust, etc) are slow to granulate while others (such as goldenrod and aster) might become solified in less than two weeks.

In my crystal-growing youth I read and observed that crystals do indeed form most readily around a seed crystal.  Taylor indicates the same thing, that even a tiny speck of granulation can trigger crystalization of the entire container.  But there are other factors.  I remember crystals growing in a saturated chemical solution without a seed, and I've had supersaturated solutions that did not crystalize.  Crystals can also form around tiny surface imperfections in the container or dust particles.  Perhaps a jar of honey filtered with cheesecloth will crystalize quicker since it will contain thousands of tiny cotten fibers.

JKJ
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John K Jordan in East TN
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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2006, 10:17:42 PM »

Egytophile -

I actually have a fairly lengthy piece filed away somewhere on Alexander the Great's death and the subsequent treatment of his body. It is comtemporary and, alas, written in classical greek which I haven't had occasion to read in about 25 years but I do vividly recall that he was at one point interred in a sarcophagus full of honey. Prior to that I believe he was submerged for a time in some sort of "spirit", presumably alchohol. Anyway, it's a fascinating subject and I will endeavor to dig up the document.

I recently finished off my very last jar of honey from my former beekeeping days. It dated from august, 1981 and was still liquid and delicious. It was "wildflower" honey which here means tulip poplar and maybe a little honey locust.
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Egyptophile
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« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2006, 11:55:40 AM »

Thank you all very kindly for your helpful replies!

Michael wrote:
>But why would you assume that it's all one thing or another?
>Honey may well have been involved as were many other
>process, procedures and chemicals.

**Oh yes, in my opinion the legend of a king who was burried
in a coffin or a big jar [sic] filled with honey goes back  on
something more down to earth, namely on the words of some
Classical writers about Mesopotamian funerary rites:
Herodotus (Histories I,198) says about the Babylonians that "with
them, the dead are entombed in honey and their lamentations are
about the same as those of the Egyptians".
Strabo (Geography 16.1.20) says that the Assyrians "bewail  the
dead, like the Egyptians and many other nations. They bury the
body in honey, first besmearing it with wax."
As Alexander died in Babylon, these words were applied to
him, and were taken too literally. For I presume that the dead
were only "annointed" or "embalmed" with wax and (perfumed?)  
honey.

Konasdad wrote:
>Cant recall if mummification was used.

It is not explicitly mentioned in ancient texts, but many scholars
presume  it.
Alexander's funerary rites in Babylon took quite a while,
as the cart on which he was placed was very luxuruous.
On this cart his body made a 'tour' through his realm.
Classical opinions on what the final destination was (Macedonia
or Egypt) differ, but Ptolemy of Egypt 'kidnapped' the
body in Syria and buried it in Memphis, later transfering
it to Alexandria - and it was lost from history there after the
3rd c. AD. Before that, Roman Emperors were said to visit
the tomb and gaze at the body, and the later Augustus even
accidentally broke off a piece of the nose.... Anyway, the
lenghty tour alone seems to have required some kind of
mummification or embalming, and the same for the exhibition.  

kind regards,
A.K.E.
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