You’ve probably seen Egyptian mummies when you’ve been to museums, or read about the discovery of some mummies, or maybe you’ve seen the movie The Mummy. But have you ever wondered how and why these Egyptian mummies were made? Let's have a closer look at the Egyptian mummification process and the reason behind creating a mummy.
The Egyptian mummification process
First, the body of the deceased was washed with water and salt.
Then the brain was removed using a long hook. This instrument was used to mash the brain until it was liquified. The embalmers then turned the body face down to let the liquified brain flow out of the body through the person’s nostrils.
The next stage involved the removal of the internal organs, which would cause decay if left inside the body. The embalmers made an incision in the lower left-hand side of the abdomen to open the body to gain access to the internal organs. They removed the liver, the lungs, the intestines, and the stomach. The heart was usually left inside the body, but sometimes the embalmers also removed the heart.
Each organ was then dried and preserved with natron, which is a hydrated sodium carbonate mineral mixed with some sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfate. Then each organ was wrapped in stripes of linen and placed in its dedicated canopic jar. The lid of each canopic jar was sculpted to depict the heads of the four sons of the god Horus. Each son of Horus would then protect the organ in his canopic jar.
The liver was placed in the canopic jar, whose lid depicted Imsety’s human head. The lungs were placed in the jar with Hapi’s baboon head on the lid. The stomach went into the jackal-headed jar for its protection by Duamutef. And finally, the intestines were placed inside the jar whose lid depicted Qebehsenuef’ falcon head.
After all the organs were safely set aside for the sons of Horus to protect them, the embalmers cleaned the now-empty abdomen and filled the body with aromatic spices like myrrh, cassia, and others. They added packs of natron inside the body and then covered the body with natron for up to 70 days. This process was in place to remove all the moisture from the body and to prevent it from rotting. A dehydrated body could be well preserved without the risk of decaying.
After the body was dehydrated, the natron from inside the body was removed and the body was filled with sawdust and linen to give it a life-like shape. The next step was to wash the body, oil the skin to soften it, and cover the body in resin to prevent the growth of mold, which would hinder the preservation of the body.
The next step involved adding false eyes and a wig, and covering the mummy with jewelries before carefully wrapping the entire body in many layers of linen stripes.
A face mask made to look like that person was placed in between layers of bandages that were wrapped around the person’s head. This was done to make it easy for the spirit to recognize its body.
After every several layers of wrappings, they used warm resin in between the layers of linen to help keep the bandages together. In between the many layers of linen, they also added small magical amulets and wrote magical words and prayers on some of the linen stripes to protect the mummy’s spirit on its way to the afterlife.
With this, the mummy was ready, and it was placed in a wooden case or a stone sarcophagus in the tomb that would be its final resting place. Various items that might be of use for that person in the afterlife were also added in the tomb. These included furniture, clothes and jewelries.
Different pet animals were also mummified and placed in the tombs to keep them company in the afterlife. Animal mummification was very common in Egypt. So common that a catacomb of about 8 million mummified dogs was found next to the temple dedicated to Anubis, the jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife.
Why were the ancient Egyptians mummified?
The ancient Egyptians went through all this trouble to prepare the mummies because they were mimicking the myth of Osiris, the god of the dead. Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother, Set. And to make sure that Osiris wouldn’t be brought back to life, Set hacked Osiris’s body into pieces and spread them onto the land and into the Nile.
The goddess Isis managed to find and reassemble the body parts and this is how Osiris was magically revived and he became the god of the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that similarly to the reconstruction of Osiris’s body, in the afterlife, all organs would be reunited with the body and the person would become whole again.
*images - from Canva