This is not a lightweight book on the subject. It partakes more of a medical examiner's report and requires a certain degree of training in anatomy-physiology and its terminology to really get much out of it. If the reader has some health care training--or patience and a medical dictionary--they should find most of the information accessible.
The book is edited by Cockburn, Cockburn, and Reyman and is an updated version of a book first published in 1980 by the first two named editors. Many of the individual discussions, such as those on PUM II and ROM I, on the Japanese mummies, etc, were discussed in that volume, and some of the work is therefore a little dated (~1970s). Individual entries in the book are written by the experts who examined the physical remains and are experts in pathology, histology, dentistry, radiology, and other science fields. In short, this is not a book on history or culture.
The practice of intentional mummification is explained and demonstrated by examples, primarily ancient Egyptian, although examples from China, Japan, the Canary Islands and other countries less commonly associated with the practice are also included, making it apparent that the habit of intentional preservation of human remains is very wide spread. Differences in technique and in the external treatment of bodies are discussed, and in some instances the authors attempt to interpret the significance of the practice to the culture in which it is found. Although mummification is generally regarded as a "whole body" invention, the authors also present different types, most notably the Brazilian head hunter's trophies and also the Chinchorro mummies BEYOND DEATH: THE CHINCHORRO MUMMIES OF ANCIENT CHILEof sticks and skin. The notion that the Egyptians were the first to bring the technique into being and that the practice thereafter spread by diffusion to other venues is also put to rest.
The authors discuss natural mummification, both in the context of accident and of intentional application. Examples of the former are the earliest Egyptian mummies (found preserved by the drying properties of sand and desert prevalent in simple pit graves), the bog bodies of Europe and other areas (primarily created by the effect of acidic or basic properties of the bogs in which they were found), the high Andean sacrificial children and Otzi the Ice Man Secrets of the Ice Man (Frozen in Time, Group 1) (preserved by the freeze drying effects of altitude in the former and the suspension of decay by freezing in the latter).
All individual finds are described by xray, superficial anatomy, histology, pathology--including parasitic, infectious, injury, degenerative, and cancerous changes--in order to abstract data on the health, disease, injury and, where possible, cause of death of the person examined. The book reveals the vast increase in modern understanding of the lives and well-being of our ancestors that can be drawn from preserved remains and suggests that, except for the lack of the benefits of modern sanitation, medical technology and antibiotics, they were much like us.