Ancient Egyptians believed in many gods and went to an ‘afterlife’ when a person died. To understand Egyptian mummification, we must first understand their religious beliefs.
The afterlife was an essential aspect of Ancient Egyptian culture. Therefore, they prepared for the afterlife by keeping their bodies longer. They achieved this through a process called embalming. The embalmed Body is called a mummy.
Ancient Egypt Mummies have captivated the modern world since Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut. People have found thousands of mummies in Egypt. Unfortunately, people destroyed many and used them for fertilizer or medicine. Some scientists threw them away because they did not think they were as crucial as artifacts.
Ancient Egyptians used to call the process of embalming mummification. Using unique techniques, the Egyptians removed all water from the dead body, leaving only a dried form that could not easily decay. It was essential to keep the dead body in as life-like a form as possible.
What is the Evolution of Mummification?
Mummification was practiced during early Egyptian history. The earlier mummies from prehistoric times likely were unexpected. The fineness of the mummification ranged, depending on the price. The best preserved and prepared mummies are from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of the New Kingdom (ca. 1570–1075 BCE) and contain those of Tutankhamun and other well-known pharaohs.
The Egyptians thought that part of a person’s soul, the ba, came to the body every night after death. Therefore, keeping the body was crucial to the soul’s survival in the afterlife.
In the oldest Egyptian mummies, scientists have found examples of natural mummification. First, the Egyptians buried the dead in the sand, and they dried out naturally. Later, witnessing how well-preserved the bodies were, people aimed to master an artificial mummification process.
Scholars have found evidence of artificial mummification in the Old Kingdom Period. Embalmers covered mummies in linen, with each limb wrapped separately, not constantly dehydrated. They focused on making the person seem life-like rather than preserving the body.
In the Fourth Dynasty, mummification began removing and keeping organs, placing them in four Canopic jars made of alabaster or limestone. Students discovered the remains of organs in alabaster chests separated into four sections. However, only a few early mummies are undamaged enough to study.
In the Middle Kingdom, the 11th Dynasty royals had their organs inside, especially queens. In addition, their jewellery was left sealed on their skin, confirming that their bodies were not thoroughly dry when the embalmer process.
The recent Kingdom Period was the elevated point of Egyptian embalming. First, embalmers buried royals with their arms crossed over their chests. Then, during the 21st Dynasty, tomb raiders began invading royal tombs. Next, they unwrapped the mummies looking for amulets made of valuable metals. Finally, priests managed the royal mummies, wrapped them then buried them in secret places.
The tomb thieves led to changes in burial practices. Since the raiders destroyed many Canopic jars containing the bodies’ organs, embalmers began preserving them, wrapping them and replacing them in the body.
Recently scientists found deterioration in embalming techniques; they discovered mummies with missing body parts. Other mummies had disarticulated bones wrapped as a mummy. X-rays of one mummy, Lady, show that she has an extra adult skull between her legs.
Greco-Roman mummies show a continued deterioration of embalming methods but significant improvements in the wrapping methods. Artisans weaved uniform bandages, which allowed embalmers to wrap bodies in particular patterns. A diagonal pattern that created a series of small squares was the most popular. Portrait masks were a special part of these mummies. The artist painted images of them. Unfortunately, embalmers appear to have mixed up some of the portraits. For example, X-rays showed one mummy was female, but the image was of a man.
What did the Ancient Egyptians Embalm?
Egyptians mummified dead bodies and also a variety of animals, and there were four different reasons for this:
- People mummified their pets because they valued them and wanted to be with them in the afterlife.
- Animals, like ducks, were intended to provide food for the dead.
- Egyptians sacrificed animals, mummified and offered them, like cats and baboons, to the gods.
- Priests mummified sacred animals after their death, like the Apis bulls.
How did they Embalm the Mummies?
The mummification process consumed seventy days. First, certain priests worked as embalmers, treating and wrapping the body. Besides knowing the proper rituals and prayers to be performed at different phases, the priests also needed to understand human anatomy. So, first, they had to remove all internal parts that might decay rapidly.
Next, the brain was removed carefully by a particular hooked instrument through the nostrils to pull out bits of brain tissue. It was a delicate operation, as anyone could easily disfigure the face. Then The embalmers removed the organs of the stomach and chest through a small cut on the left side. They left the heart in its place, believing it is the center of a person’s entity and intelligence. The other organs, like, the liver, lungs, and intestines, were preserved in special boxes or jars nowadays called canopic jars, which were buried with the mummy. Later the organs were wrapped, treated and replaced within the body. Finally, the unused canopic jars became part of the burial rituals.
Next, the embalmers removed all moisture from the body. They did this by coating the body with a type of salt (called natron) and placing extra natron packets inside it. When the body had dried out, embalmers removed the internal packets and carefully washed the natron off the body. Finally, there was a very dried-out but recognizable human shape.
Each mummy required hundreds of meters of linen for wrapping. Then, the priests carefully wrapped the linen around the body; occasionally, they wrapped each finger and toe separately before covering the entire hand or foot. Then, usually, the priests put a mask on the one’s face between the layers of head bandages.
In the end, the priests wrapped the final cloth and secured it with linen strips. The mummy was complete. The priests were busy preparing the mummy and the workers who should make the tomb ready. Although the tomb building usually began long before the person’s death. Plus, other items should be prepared, like furniture, statues, paintings of religious or daily scenes, and food lists. Through this magical process, these models, pictures, and lists would become real when needed in the afterlife. When everything is set, then it is time for the funeral.
Priests performed unique religious rituals (at the funeral) at the tomb’s entrance. The essential component of the ceremony was called “Opening of the Mouth.” The priest had to touch specific parts of the mummy with an instrument to “open” those parts to the senses enjoyed in life and required in the afterlife. For example, the dead person could speak and eat by touching the instrument to the mouth.
By that, he was ready for his journey to the afterlife. Finally, the mummy was placed in the coffin or burial room, and the entrance was sealed. Some people may think that the Egyptians were pre-prepared for thoughts of death. But they were planning their death early because of their love for life. So they could not think of any life better than this, and they desired to continue that life after death.
Why did Ancient Egyptians Preserve the Body?
Ancient Egyptians believed that if they mummified the body, they would not lose the soul, as the body is the spirit’s home. Although the concept of “spirit” was complex, there were three essential spirits: the ka, ba, and akh. The ka would remain in the tomb and need the objects there. The ba was liberated to fly out and into the tomb. And the akh had to visit Underworld to the Last Judgment and enter the afterlife.
Who can go Through Mummification?
Egypt’s pharaohs were usually mummified and buried in tombs. Members of the officials and nobility also often received the exact treatment and, sometimes, familiar people. However, the process was expensive, beyond the means of many.
Some animals were also mummified for religious reasons. For example, in the later dynasties, baboons, cats, birds, and crocodiles, which also had great spiritual significance, were sometimes mummified.
Pharaohs had the most expensive mummification of all people. Since the pharaoh was considered a god, they included many gems and amulets between the linen wrapping layers.
They would also use a unique sarcophagus for the pharaoh that was carved and painted in his likeness. Some were decorated with gold. Others had solid gold decorative masks on the head and face that looked like the pharaoh.
The pharaoh mummies were placed in special burial places along with many expensive items they would take with them in the afterlife.
The Rich People
Wealthy people would also have similar high-quality mummies. Since it cost a lot of money to create a mummy, they were the only ones that could afford it.
Unlike the pharaoh, the burial tombs of the wealthy were usually in group burial grounds. In addition, special religious burial rites had to be performed by the temple priests at each step of the mummification. That ensures that the person who had passed away would enter the afterlife correctly.
The priests used to use special oils for purification, but they were also developed over the years to help preserve the body. Mummies over 3,000 years old have been discovered, and some still have hair and skin when they are uncovered.
What are the Most Famous mummies?
Queen Hatshepsut has been in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for years. As a result, researchers have had to conduct DNA tests and scans of the mummy to decide if she was her.
Archaeologists have used a tooth found in a funerary container bearing the queen’s name in the temple “Deir el-Bahari”; the molar fits perfectly with the mummy’s teeth.
Hatshepsut’s mummy was one of two female mummies found by Howard Carter in 1903 in the Valley of the Kings tomb. In the tomb were two mummies, one of the queen and another of her maid, Site In.
King Ramses II:
The mummy of Ramses II, one of the best-preserved, began to deteriorate and show signs of decomposition. In addition, the humidity to which it was exposed generated several types of fungi that threatened to endanger its conservation.
Ramses II travelled to Paris on September 26, 1976, to be examined. After restoration, the pharaohs stayed in the Ethnological Museum in Paris and returned to their country at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The most famous mummy in the Egyptian world was Pharaoh Tutankhamun, King of Egypt (1346-1337). His discovery is full of suggestive legends.
The mummy of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun was taken from his coffin and revealed to the people for the first time in history amidst excellent media engagement.
“Carter” used iron bars to separate the mummy from its mask and manipulated it with violence to separate its amulets from its shroud. “The result is that today the mummy is divided into 18 different pieces,” said the Egyptologist. Likewise, the director of the Valley of the Kings favored the theory that the pharaoh died in an accident when he fell from a car and not, as other hypotheses suggest, murdered. That happened more than 3,300 years ago. The mummy of Tutankhamun is located in his tomb in the valley of the kings.
What are the Most Fun Facts about Egyptian Mummies?
There are many interesting facts about Egyptian mummies, for example:
- Embalmers worked for centuries to master their art.
- The New Kingdom Period expresses the high point of Egyptian embalming.
- The first Egyptian mummies were created naturally after burial in the desert.
- Greco-Roman mummies have the most decorative artistic bandages.
- Royal mummies are the best example of the embalmer’s art.
- The Egyptians believed the soul needed the body to live in the afterlife.
- Researchers found thousands of animal mummies.
- Embalmers sometimes were not careful with the mummies and broke bones or lost pieces.
In the end, we can say that Egyptians did mummification for religious reasons and to get the best honourable funeral. However, Egyptians did that also to go afterlife in peace and wealth, in other words, to live the same life as they did in the underworld.
Mummification was not an easy process, and not everyone could afford it, as it was very expensive; plus, some priests were trained to take care of this process. Some artists made statues and paintings to decorate the tomb and many other preparations.
Many researchers and scientists are still learning and discovering more interesting things about ancient Egyptians; there are lots of secrets which have not been discovered yet.
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