Hugo Chavez died a few days ago, but he’s not exactly going six feet under any time soon. The late Venezuelan leader’s body is going to be on display for a week so people can pay homage. But bodies rot starting immediately, and regular old funeral home embalming only lasts a matter of hours. How do you ensure that old dead Chavez continues to resemble formerly alive Chavez for viewing purposes?
There are a couple of processes, but just like Lenin and Mao before him, Hugo is basically getting super-embalmed in a way that should last a little longer. As Popular Science explains:
The alcohol, for example, is highly important to the embalming process. It’s what’s used to hold the formaldehyde in solution, since you’re trying to stay away from water — but alcohol evaporates quickly, which can lead to the body drying out. So you have to keep the humidity level fairly high, to combat that. But keeping the humidity level high invites all sorts of other critters — mould, fungus, bacteria — that thrive in damp environments. It’s a constant balance between wet and dry.
Embalming is a careful process — one that also requires quite a bit of makeup. PopSci says there are other more modern methods that are also effective, but embalming is enough to keep Chavez looking halfway decent for at least his big week. [PopSci]