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Who’s your mummy? How (and why) ancient Egyptians preserved their dead.

Egyptian mummy at a British museum

Why did Egyptians mummify their dead?

Unlike gangsters and politicians who go to great lengths to hide dead bodies, ancient Egyptians did everything they could to ensure the dead body stuck around. At the time, Egyptians believed survival of the body after death was necessary to “live again” in the afterlife. If the body decayed, the soul would be lost, and the person would not be able to enter the afterlife. Thus, the preservation of their dead was extremely important to the people of ancient Egypt.

Surprisingly, researchers have found that the Egyptian practice of mummification was being carried out much earlier than previously thought. They found that embalming substances from the oldest-known Egyptian cemeteries showed mummy-making from as early as about 4300 BC – about 6,000 years ago.

To mummify a person’s body, the Egyptians wrapped the dead body with strips of linens which were coated with embalming agents that acted as an antibacterial and protective barrier. The recipe used for the goop used to coat the linen called for exotic ingredients such as plant oils, animal fats, pine resin, plant gum, and petroleum. Some of the ingredients used were quite rare and costly which meant only the richest citizens were mummified. Of course, as long as you could afford the process, most Egyptian funeral homes offered “double your mummy back” guarantees if anything went wrong.

How Egyptians mummified bodies

Here’s a more detailed overview of the Egyptian mummification process:

  1. Removal of organs: The first step was to remove the internal organs, including the brain, lungs, liver, and stomach. This was done because these organs decayed quickly and would cause the body to rot. The process of removing the brain was particularly interesting. A hook was inserted through the nostrils and used to pull the brain out through the nasal cavity.
  2. Drying the body: Once the organs were removed, the body was dried out using a mixture of salts called natron. Natron was a naturally occurring salt that was found in Egypt. The body was covered with natron for 40 days to dry it out completely. During this time, the body was turned over several times to ensure that it was dried out evenly.
  3. Wrapping the body: After the body was dried out, it was wrapped in linen bandages. The bandages were coated with resin to help preserve the body. The wrapping process was a complex one, with different layers of bandages being used to wrap different parts of the body. The hands and feet were wrapped separately, and the head was wrapped separately from the rest of the body.
  4. Adding amulets: Amulets were placed between the layers of bandages to protect the body from harm. Amulets were small objects that were believed to have magical powers. They were often made of precious metals or stones and were inscribed with spells or prayers.
  5. Placing the body in a coffin: The mummified body was then placed in a coffin. Coffins were often decorated with scenes from the person’s life and were designed to protect the body and ensure that it entered the afterlife. The coffins were often made of wood and decorated with hieroglyphics and other symbols.

The entire process of mummification could take up to 70 days.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Egyptian mummy at a British museum via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - GNU Free. November 11, 2004

Featured Image Credit

Egyptian mummy at a British museum via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - GNU Free. November 11, 2004


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