Facts of Mummies in Ancient Egypt

Mummies in ancient Egypt were deceased bodies that were preserved through a special process known as mummification. This process was integral to the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs about the afterlife.

The practice of mummification, which became prevalent around 2600 BC during the Old Kingdom, had both spiritual and practical reasons. The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death and that the soul (Ka) would return to the body. Therefore, it was essential to preserve the body as a home for the soul in the afterlife.

The process of mummification involved several steps:

  1. Removal of Internal Organs: After the death of an individual, the body was taken to the embalmers, where the internal organs, such as the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines, were removed. These organs were preserved separately in canopic jars.
  2. Preservation of the Heart: The heart was left inside the body as ancient Egyptians believed it to be the center of a person’s being and intelligence. It was considered essential for the Day of Judgment when the person’s heart would be weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth.
  3. Dehydration of the Body: The body was then covered in a naturally occurring salt called natron, which helped dry out and preserve the body.
  4. Wrapping: After about 40 days, the body was washed, oiled, and wrapped in strips of linen. Amulets were often placed within the wrappings for protection in the afterlife. The process of wrapping could take up to 15 days.
  5. Funerary Mask and Coffin: A mask, often made of cartonnage or gold (in the case of pharaohs), was placed over the head and shoulders of the mummy. The mummified body was then placed in a coffin or sarcophagus.

The quality and complexity of mummification could vary greatly depending on the deceased’s social status and wealth. Pharaohs and high officials often received the most elaborate mummification processes. The mummies of pharaohs were placed in elaborate tombs filled with material goods, food, and drink to accompany them in the afterlife. These tombs were often located in vast burial grounds or necropolises, the most famous of which is the Valley of the Kings.

The Mummification Process: More Details

The process of mummification was a lengthy and meticulous one, often taking up to 70 days to complete. While the main steps remained consistent, there were variations depending on the period in history and the status of the deceased.

Removal of the Brain: In addition to the extraction of the internal organs, the brain was also removed from the body, usually through the nostrils with specially designed hooks. The ancient Egyptians did not recognize the brain’s significance as we do today and disposed of it, while the heart was left intact within the body.

Treatment of the Body: After the body was dehydrated with natron, embalmers would then rinse it with water from the Nile before beginning the process of wrapping. At this stage, the body was often treated with oils, resins, and spices, both to mask the odor of decay and to help preserve the body.

The Wrapping Process: During the wrapping of the body, many layers of linen were used, and amulets and jewels were often incorporated into these wrappings as protective symbols. The wrapping process itself was incredibly intricate, with each finger and toe wrapped individually before being bound together.

Mummification and Egyptian Society

Mummification was not limited to humans. Animals were also mummified in ancient Egypt, particularly pets that were meant to accompany their owners into the afterlife, as well as sacred animals like cats, crocodiles, and ibises.
Mummification was a significant industry in ancient Egypt. There were professional embalmers who offered their services at varying costs, which meant even those who were not royalty could afford a form of mummification, albeit a simpler one.

The funeral rituals that followed mummification were also a crucial part of the process. This often involved a procession to the burial site, and a “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony, which was believed to give the deceased the ability to speak and eat again in the afterlife.

Modern-Day Perception

Today, mummies provide archaeologists and historians with a wealth of information about ancient Egyptian society, including their religious beliefs, medical knowledge, and even their diets. CT scans and other modern medical techniques have allowed scientists to learn more about the health and lives of the ancient Egyptians without damaging the integrity of these priceless historical treasures.

Wikipedia: Ancient Egypt
History Channel: Ancient Egypt
Live Science: Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt for Kids
British Museum: Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt