The Mummification

The Mummy & The Mummification

 
 

What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think about the ancient Egyptians? Is it a pyramid in the desert, some hieroglyphs etched into a block of stone, or a fearsome pharaoh?
Maybe it is some of those things. Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe what you think about is something that has been dead for thousands of years! A mummy is a dead body that has been intentionally preserved. There are lots of different ways to preserve a corpse, but nobody did it as well as the ancient Egyptians. They had special techniques that they perfected over centuries. The ancient Egyptians were so good at the practice of mummification, that we are still discovering their mummies today. 

Religious Beliefs

There are many different religions in the world. All of these religions have beliefs and rituals that are associated with death.
Some religions believe in a life after death, in heaven  or hell. Others believe in reincarnation. There are people who don’t practice any religion who believe that the life you live on earth  is the only life you will ever have.
Different religions also have different rituals that they practice when someone dies. For example, Islam requires that Muslims be buried with their heads pointing toward Mecca. Mecca is the birthplace of the prophet Mohammad.
Traditionally, Jews believe that the body is the property of God and that it should not be defaced in any way. For this reason, Jews usually do not cremate or embalm their dead. Cremate means to burn a body after death. Embalm means to use chemicals to temporarily preserve the body so it can be shown at a funeral.
Hindus and Buddhists prefer cremation. They believe that the burning of the body focuses the attention of the living on just how short and temporary life really is.
You can see that religious beliefs about what happens to a person after death, determines what happens to the body at the time of death. Knowing this will help you understand why the ancient Egyptians practiced mummification. 

Ancient Egyptian Religion

Like all civilizations, the ancient Egyptians held strong religious beliefs. They believed that all people had a ka and a ba. The ka is the life-force. Everybody’s ka is exactly the same. The ba is like your conscience or personality. It is made up of the good and the bad that you do during your life.  The combination of the ba and the ka is similar to the Christian idea of a soul.
The ancient Egyptians believed that after a person died, the ka would leave the body and go to live with the gods. In order for the ka to be able to do this, it  needed food and drink. This is why the ancient Egyptians buried their dead with jugs of wine and bowls of food.
But what is the role of the ba?  The picture on the right gives you a clue. The ancient Egyptians believed that the ba left the body during the day to be united with the ka, but at night it had to return.
Because the ba rested inside of the deceased body, the body itself had to preserved. This is why the ancient Egyptians practiced mummification. If nothing was done to the body after death, it would naturally decay. And if there was no body, where would the ba go to rest? The picture above shows the ba returning to the mummy to rest.
The ancient Egyptians, just like religious people today, had reasons for practicing the rituals that they did. To us, some of these may seem very unusual. But just imagine how odd a Christmas tree or the practice of yoga may seem to an ancient Egyptian!

Wrapping the mummy


First the head and neck are wrapped with strips of fine linen. Then the fingers and the toes are individually wrapped.  
The arms and legs are wrapped separately. Between the layers of wrapping, the embalmers place amulets to protect the body in its journey through the underworld. A priest reads spells out loud while the mummy is being wrapped. These spells will help ward off evil spirits and help the deceased make the journey to the afterlife.  
 The arms and legs are tied together. A papyrus scroll with spells from the Book of the Dead is placed between the wrapped hands. More linen strips are wrapped around the body. At every layer, the bandages are painted with liquid resin that helps to glue the bandages together. A cloth is wrapped around the body and a picture of the god Osiris is painted on its surface.  
 Finally, a large cloth is wrapped around the entire mummy. It is attached with strips of linen that run from the top to the bottom of the mummy, and around its middle.  
A board of painted wood is placed on top of the mummy before the mummy is lowered into its coffin. The first coffin is then put inside a second coffin.  
A ritual called the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ is performed, allowing the deceased to eat and drink again.  
Finally, the body and its coffins are placed inside a large stone sarcophagus in the tomb. Furniture, clothing, valuable objects, food and drink are arranged in the tomb for the deceased.  
Now his body is ready for its journey through the underworld. There his heart will be judged by his good deeds on earth. If his heart is found to be pure he will be sent to live for all eternity in the beautiful ‘Field of Reeds’

The ancient Egyptians are famous for making mummies. But it took them centuries to figure out the best ways to preserve their dead.
Their techniques were so good that we still find Egyptian mummies today! Embalmers performed the mummification process. It was complex, took many days, and always began the same way…with a corpse!

Step 1:    Wash the body with palm wine and water from the Nile River.
Step 2:   Make an incision on the left-side of the abdomen.
Step 3:    Remove the lungs, stomach, liver and intestines through the incision.
Step 4:    Push a brain hook up into the left nostril and jiggle it around to liquify the brain.
Step 5:    Turn the body over and allow the brain to flow out through the nostrils and into a bowl.
Step 6:   Place the preserved liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines in canopic jars.
Step 7:    Bury the body in a kind of salt called natron to dry it out.
Step 8:    After 40 days, remove the natron. The body will be darker and much thinner.
Step 9:    Wash the body and stuff the cavity with resin-soaked linen.
Step 10:    Call the make-up artist to apply makeup to the face.  He might want to fit the deceased with a wig.
Step 11:   Rub the body in scented oil.
Step 12:   Brush the body in melted pine resin (sap) to seal it.
Step 13:    Place a golden plate with a Wadjet eye (the eye of Horus) over the incision.
Step 14:   Waft incense to purify the air.
Step 15:   Wrap the body in linen.
Step 16:    Insert amulets (charms) in-between the layers of linens.
Step 17:   Place a vulture amulet at the throat of the deceased.
Step 18:   Place a special amulet called a heart scarab over the heart.
Step 19:   Place a mask over the face of the deceased.
Step 20:   Label the deceased with their name.
Step 21:   Place the mummy in a sarcophagus.
Step 22:   Place the sarcophagus in a tomb.
The ancient Egyptians recited spells or prayers from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to help the deceased in the afterlife.  Below is one of these spells.

Come for my soul, O you wardens of the sky! If you delay letting my soul see my corpse, you will find the eye of Horus standing up thus against you…The sacred barque will be joyful and the great god will proceed in peace when you allow this soul of mine to ascend vindicated to the gods…May it see my corpse, may it rest on my mummy, which will never be destroyed or perish. The ancient Egyptians are famous for making mummies. But it took them centuries to figure out the best ways to preserve their dead.

Their techniques were so good that we still find Egyptian mummies today! Embalmers performed the mummification process. It was complex, took many days, and always began the same way…with a corpse!
Step 1:    Wash the body with palm wine and water from the Nile River.
Step 2:   Make an incision on the left-side of the abdomen.
Step 3:    Remove the lungs, stomach, liver and intestines through the incision.
Step 4:    Push a brain hook up into the left nostril and jiggle it around to liquify the brain.
Step 5:    Turn the body over and allow the brain to flow out through the nostrils and into a bowl.
Step 6:   Place the preserved liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines in canopic jars.
Step 7:    Bury the body in a kind of salt called natron to dry it out.
Step 8:    After 40 days, remove the natron. The body will be darker and much thinner.
Step 9:    Wash the body and stuff the cavity with resin-soaked linen.
Step 10:    Call the make-up artist to apply makeup to the face.  He might want to fit the deceased with a wig.
Step 11:   Rub the body in scented oil.
Step 12:   Brush the body in melted pine resin (sap) to seal it.
Step 13:    Place a golden plate with a Wadjet eye (the eye of Horus) over the incision.
Step 14:   Waft incense to purify the air.
Step 15:   Wrap the body in linen.
Step 16:    Insert amulets (charms) in-between the layers of linens.
Step 17:   Place a vulture amulet at the throat of the deceased.
Step 18:   Place a special amulet called a heart scarab over the heart.
Step 19:   Place a mask over the face of the deceased.
Step 20:   Label the deceased with their name.
Step 21:   Place the mummy in a sarcophagus.
Step 22:   Place the sarcophagus in a tomb.


The ancient Egyptians recited spells or prayers from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to help the deceased in the afterlife.  Below is one of these spells.

Come for my soul, O you wardens of the sky! If you delay letting my soul see my corpse, you will find the eye of Horus standing up thus against you…The sacred barque will be joyful and the great god will proceed in peace when you allow this soul of mine to ascend vindicated to the gods…May it see my corpse, may it rest on my mummy, which will never be destroyed or perish. 

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