Definition of Mummification
The Ancient Egyptians believed that elements of the soul were perishable and therefore at great risk. The tomb, the process of mummification, rituals and magic spells promoted the well-being, and ensured the preservation of the dead and their Ka, Ba and Ahku. But what exactly was mummification? Mummification Definition: Mummification was the process of preserving and embalming a dead body in the belief that the body would be necessary in the Ancient Egyptian afterlife. Using a special process the Ancient Egyptians removed all moisture from the body, leaving only a dried form that would not easily decay. The process of Mummification requires inhibiting microbial growth and dehydration. The process of creating a mummy was complicated and costly and was surrounded with ceremony and ritual.
The History of Mummification
The tradition and history of Mummification started with the myths and legends of the Ancient Egyptian gods. In the mythical history Osiris was murdered by his younger, jealous brother Seth but brought back to life (resurrected) by Isis for just one day, when their son Horus, was conceived. The body of Osiris was embalmed by Anubis who therefore made Osiris the first mummy. The Egyptian method of preparing the body varied over time and also with the social status of the deceased. At first only the pharaohs were mummified but this was later extended to other Egyptians who were wealthy enough to pay for the process. Eventually even the peasants were mummified.
The Purpose of Mummification
The Ancient Egyptians believed that every person was thought to have three souls - the Ka, the Ba and the Akh.
- The Ka was a less solid duplicate of the body. Without a physical body the soul had no place to dwell and became restless forever
- The Ba was able to leave the tomb and revisit the dead person's haunts in the mortal world.
- The Akh was the immortal soul which emerged when the Ka and the Ba united after the deceased person passed judgement in the Egyptian Mummification
The entities of the Ka, Ba and Ahk, or elements of the soul, were believed to be perishable and therefore at great risk. The tomb, the process of mummification, rituals and magic spells promoted the well-being, and ensured the preservation, of the dead and their Ka, Ba and Ahk. The purpose of mummification was therefore conducted to keep the soul alive and ensure a clear path to the Afterlife.
Egyptian Mummification Process - The Egyptian Embalmers
Who were the Embalmers in Ancient Egypt? Where did the embalmers work? The embalmers worked on the west bank of the Nile away from the residential areas. The process of mummification was both a religious and technical process and therefore practised by the priests who were trained in both the mummification process and the religious rituals that were associated with it. There were different types of priest embalmers who worked in an embalming hall and workshop called a “Wabet” meaning a clean place. The names and the roles of the ancient Egyptian Embalmers who worked in the Wabet were as follows:
- The Hery Sesheta (the priest who wore the Anubis mask) - The Hery Sesheta was in charge of the embalming and mummification process. The name Hery Sesheta meant 'Overseer of the Mysteries'. This was the priest who wore the mask of the god Anubis in the mummification and burial rituals. Wearing the mask symbolised Anubis watching and guiding the priests in the mummification process. The Hery Sesha made the incision for removal of the internal organs
- The Hetemw Netjer - The Hetemw Netjer was the priest who assisted the Hery Sesheta with the death rituals (the Anubis jackal mask worn by the Hery Sesheta severely impaired his line of vision). The title Hetemw Netjer meant seal bearer of the god Osiris
- The Hery Heb - The Hery Heb was the lector priest who was present during the mummification process to read spells and prayers which related to the rituals and mummification process
- The Wetyw - The Wetyw were the most junior and undertook roles such as removing the organs and bandaging the mummy during the mummification process
The Egyptian embalmers were very secretive about the art and process of mummification and left no documents or accounts which related to their mysteries and rituals. Wall hieroglyphs and spells provide an insight into mummification, as do artefacts such as embalmers tools and the embalmers table. The writings of the Greek Herodotus have provided a significant amount of information on the process. Modern knowledge of the process has been obtained from the study of mummies.
Egyptian Mummification Process
The Egyptian Mummification process and techniques differed according to the roles and the wealth of the people they were embalming. The wealthier the deceased, the more elaborate the process. The Egyptian mummification process therefore fell into three different categories:
Egyptian Mummification Process - The 70 Day Rule
The mummification process lasted for a period of 70 days. The 70 day period corresponded to the length of time during which Sirius, the 'Dog Star', appeared to die by dipping below the horizon. The 70 day rule applied to all classes of Egyptians - rich or poor. The 70 day mummification process for wealthy Egyptians was divided into the following activities:
The Steps of the Egyptian Mummification Process
The embalmers used a range of tools during the mummification process (some of which were left inside the mummy). The embalmers tools included bronze hooks, knives, tweezers, needles and awls (a small point tool used for making holes) for opening, emptying and closing up the body. The step in the mummification process which included the removal of organs were conducted on a special slightly slanted table which allowed the blood and bodily fluids to drain into a built in basin. The different steps of the mummification process were accompanied by rituals and were as follows:
- Step 1 - When an Egyptian died the family went into mourning and the body was taken to the embalmers and a price was agreed for undertaking the process
- Step 2 - The body was taken for ritual washing. It was washed with palm wine to kill bacteria and rinsed with water from the Nile. The corpse was then transferred to the 'Place of Purification', the embalming hall called the Wabet
- Step 3 - Removal of the brain. A hook was inserted into the nostrils and through the nose which punctured the brain. The body was turned on its side and the brain fluid drained out of the corpse
- Step 4 - Resin such as pistacia tree resin and balsam sap was poured into the brain which then solidified to prevent the skull from collapsing
- Step 5 - Incisions were made into the body and the stomach, liver, lungs and intestines were removed
- Step 6 - The organs were stored in special alabaster containers called canopic jars - which would be buried with the mummy. The canopic jars were filled with crystals of natron ( natron is a compound of sodium carbonate and bicarbonate which stopped rotting) The heart was left in the body as the Ancient Egyptians believed the heart would be needed on the Day of Judgement
- Step 7 - The body and the cavity in the abdomen were packed with small sacks of natron
- Step 8 - The body moisture was absorbed by the natron
- Step 9 - The small sacks of natron were removed from the body
- Step 10 - The corpse was washed with water
- Step 11 - The body was then anointed with oils, incense, scents, spices, herbs and resins
- Step 12 - The body cavity was then packed with linen or straw soaked with the same oils, scents, spices, herbs and resins
- Step 13 - The cavities were then sewn together
- Step 14 - The body was then covered with layers with linen shrouds coated with resin. Linen bandages were used to bind the extremities
- Step 15 - The process of mummification was completed
The History of Animal Mummification
The History of Mummification extended even further to include animal mummification. Ancient Egyptians also practised animal-worship and over time sacred animals were also embalmed after death, and their bodies were interred in sacred cemeteries. Animal mummification was practised on the following animals which all had cult followings:
Dogs and Jackals
Rams, Cows and Bulls
Hawks and Falcons
The Process of Animal Mummification
The process of animal mummification was extended to many different animals in Ancient Egypt. The process of animal mummification included:
- Removal of the Organs of animals, except the heart
- The body of the animal was dried out using Natron salt and packed with sand
- The Greek historian, Diodorus recorded that "Cedar oil and such spices as have the quality of imparting a pleasant odour and of preserving the body for a long time, they lay it away in a consecrated tomb."
- The bodies of the animals were placed in appropriate positions for example, cats were mummified in a sitting position with with the forelegs lying down the front and the hind legs drawn up beside the pelvis
- The bodies of the animals were elaborately wrapped in linen
- Facial details or decorations were painted on the wrappings of the animal mummy as it was important that the mummy's head should resemble the living animal
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