Mummies and Mummification
The ancient Egyptians believed in a life after death. They believed that a body needed to be preserved to go on to that afterlife. A mummy is a body of an animal or human which is preserved so that it can go on into the afterlife. The process is called mummification. The practice began in Egypt in about 2400 B. C. Scientific study of mummification didn't begin until the 1900's.
Wealthy Egyptians could afford to have their bodies mummified. The bodies of poor Egyptians were just buried in the sand. Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, a person needed the same things he needed in this life, so they buried with the person dishes, jewels and many other things. These mummies and their possessions, including furniture, food and games, were placed in a tomb. Scenes from a person's life were painted on the walls of the tomb.
The process to mummify a person took about 70 days. It was completed by a priest who wore the mask of a jackal. After the body was washed, all the organs except the heart were removed. This was to slow down the process of deterioration. The Egyptians did not remove the heart because it was the center of emotion and intelligence.
Stuffing was filled in every cavity in the body. Then it was covered with natron which dried out the body. The stuffing was removed after 40-50 days. Linen or sawdust would have then been inserted into the body. After the body was wrapped with strips of linen cloth, it was covered with a shroud or sheet-like material. Lastly, it was put in a tomb of some kind. Kings often built pyramids for their tombs.
Except for the heart, all the other organs were put into four canopic jars. The liver, stomach, lungs and intestines were each put in a ceramic jar. A different god guarded each one of the jars. Imsety had a human head and guarded the liver. The lungs were protected by the god Hapy, a baboon. The jackal god, Duamotef, watched over the stomach. The intestines were safeguarded by a falcon god named Quebesenuef.
At first, people thought that only the rulers, the pharaohs, could be mummified. Later, anyone who could afford the process could be mummified. A person did not have to be mummified to live on in the next life, but it was a good way to assure that the transition happened.
In the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, 2000-1600 B. C., a mask was placed over the dead person's face. It was made of papyrus covered with plaster. Wood and even silver or gold could be used for a mask also. The face would be painted onto this covering. The most famous mask is that of the pharaoh Tutankhamun.
The embalmers, those who mummified bodies, did not use many tools. Sometimes they left these with the bodies. They used a knife to make the cut into the stomach area. To extract the brain matter, a bronze hook was used. An adze took out the internal organs. The embalmer poured liquid resin into the nasal cavity through a funnel.
The Egyptians mummified animals too. Cats were especially favored by the people because they attacked rats and mice which would get into the granaries. They also helped in hunting. Large numbers of some mummified species have been found. Mummies of other species are rare. Some animals were bred in the temple to be mummified at a later point. The Arabic word mummiya means bitumen, a pitch-like substance used in the process of mummification.
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