We have all seen the horror movies featuring Egyptian Mummies and heard about the tales and myths surrounding the process of mummification. This page attempts to provide the facts and information about the real mummies of Ancient Egypt. What exactly was Mummies? Mummies Definition: Mummies are preserved corpses that, due to shielding from decomposition, have retained its physical form. Mummies were created through the process of mummification which involved 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 corpse, leaving only a dried shell of a body that would not easily decay. The making of Mummies required inhibiting microbial growth and dehydration. The process of creating mummies was complicated and costly and surrounded by ceremony and ritual.
Why were Mummies important to the Ancient Egyptians?
Why were mummies important to the Egyptians? The Ancient Egyptians believed that elements of the soul were perishable and therefore at great risk. The process of creating mummies combined with rituals and magic spells ensured the preservation of the dead corpse and their Ka, Ba and Ahku.
The Process of Creating Egyptian Mummies
The process of creating mummies was both a religious and technical process and therefore practised by the priests who were trained in both the art of mummification and the religious rituals that were associated with it. The priest embalmers used a range of tools during the Mummies process (some of which have been left inside the mummies!). The priest embalmers tools included bronze hooks, knives, tweezers and needles for opening, emptying and closing up the corpse. The whole process of removing the of organs of the body was conducted on a special slightly slanted table which allowed the blood and bodily fluids to drain into a built-in sink. The different stages of creating mummies, which were accompanied by their rituals, were as follows:
- 1. When an Egyptian died the family went into mourning and the corpse was taken to the priest embalmers and a price was agreed for undertaking the process of creating a mummy
- 2. The corpse was taken for ritual washing. The body was washed with palm wine to kill bacteria and rinsed with water from the Nile
- 3. The body was then transferred to the 'Place of Purification', the embalming hall called the Wabet where the mummies were created
- 4. Removal of the brain. A hook was inserted into the nostrils and up through the nose which punctured the brain. The corpse was turned on its side and the brain fluid drained out of the body
- 5. Resin such as pistacia tree resin and balsam sap was poured into the brain which then solidified and prevented the skull from collapsing
- 6. Incisions were made into the corpse and the stomach, liver, lungs and intestines were removed
- 7. The organs were stored in alabaster containers called Canopic Jars - which would later be buried with the mummy. The canopic jars were filled with natural crystals of natron (natron is a compound of sodium carbonate and bicarbonate which stopped the mummies rotting)
- 8. The heart was left in the corpse as the Ancient Egyptians believed the heart held the spirit, understanding and senses and would be needed on the Day of Judgement in the Underworld
- 9. The body and the cavity in the abdomen were packed with small parcels of natron
- 10. Moisture in the corpse was absorbed by the natron
- 11. The small sacks of natron were removed from the corpse
- 12. The body was washed with water
- 13. The corpse was then anointed with oils, incense, scents, spices, herbs and resins
- 14. The body cavity of the mummy was then packed with linen or straw soaked with the same oils, scents, spices, herbs and resins
- 15. The body cavities were then sewn together
- 16. The corpse was then covered with layers with linen shrouds coated with resin. Linen bandages were used to bind the extremities
- 17. Amulets, some containing magical spells, were inserted in the layers of bandages, to assist the deceased in the trials and tests they would face in the terrifying underworld
The process and religious rituals required for creating mummies lasted for a period of 70 days. After the required period for the mummification process the Egyptian Mummies were ready for their funeral and burial when their journey to the underworld and afterlife would begin.
The History of Egyptian Mummies
The tradition and history of Egyptian Mummies started with the myths and legends of the Ancient Egyptian gods, in particular Osiris. In the creation myth Osiris was murdered by his younger, jealous brother Seth but brought back to life, by his wife Isis, for just one day. The body of Osiris was embalmed by the god Anubis who therefore made Osiris the first of the Egyptian mummies. The Egyptian method of preparing the body for mummification varied according to the social status of the deceased. At first only the pharaohs were made into mummies but this was later extended to other Egyptians who were wealthy enough to pay for the process to become a mummy. Eventually even the peasants were made into mummies.
The Purpose of Egyptian Mummies
The Ancient Egyptians believed that every person was thought to have three souls - the Ka, the Ba and the Akh.
- The Ka was a ethereal twin of the mortal 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 haunts of the deceased in the mortal world.
- The Akh was the immortal soul which emerged when the Ka and the Ba were united after the Day of Judgement
The reason that mummies were created was to keep the soul alive and ensure a clear path to the Afterlife.
Egyptian Mummies Process - The Egyptian Embalmers
Who were the Embalmers in Ancient Egypt who created the mummies? Where did the ancient Egyptian embalmers work? The embalmers worked on the west bank of the River Nile well away from the residential area of Egypt. The process of creating mummies was both a religious and technical process and therefore practised by the priests who were trained in both the techniques and the religious rituals that were associated with it. There were different types of priest embalmers who worked in an embalming hall and workshop which produced the mummies called a “Wabet” which meant a clean place. The names and the roles of the embalmers were as follows:
- The Hery Sesheta (the priest who wore the Anubis mask) - The Hery Sesheta was in charge of the embalming process and the creation of the mummies. The name Hery Sesheta meant 'Overseer of the Mysteries'. The Hery Sesha made the incision for removal of the internal organs of the corpse
- The Hetemw Netjer - The Hetemw Netjer was the priest who assisted the Hery Sesheta with the death rituals
- The Hery Heb - The Hery Heb was the lector priest who was present to read magical spells and prayers which related to the rituals used when creating the mummies
- The Wetyw - The Wetyw were the most junior embalmers and undertook jobs such as removing the organs and bandaging the mummies during the mummification process
Egyptian Mummies - Who was Mummified?
The process and techniques used for creating the Egyptian mummies differed according to the roles and the wealth of the people they were embalming. At first only the bodies of dead Pharaohs were made into mummies. The wealthier the deceased, the more elaborate the process and the rituals involved in producing mummies. The three different categories of mummies were as follows:
Seventy Day Rule for creating Egyptian Mummies
The process and rituals required for creation mummies for their final burial lasted for a period of seventy days. The seventy day period corresponded to the length of time during which Sirius, the 'Dog Star', appeared to die by dipping below the horizon. The seventy day rule applied to all classes of Egyptians - rich or poor. The seventy day process for creating the mummies of wealthy Egyptians was divided into the following activities:
The Mystery of Creating Egyptian Mummies
The mystery of how the Ancient Egyptians created mummies has slowly unravelled over the years. The Egyptian embalmers were very secretive about the art and process of creating mummies and left no accounts which related to their techniques, mystery, ceremonies and rituals. Hieroglyphics and spells have provided an insight into the mystery of creating mummies, as do artefacts such as embalmers tools and the embalmers table. The writings of the Greek Herodotus traveller have provided a significant amount of information into the process of creating mummies.
The History of Animal Mummies including Cat Mummies
The History of Mummies extended even further to animal mummies, including tens of thousands of cat mummies. The Ancient Egyptians practised animal-worship and over time sacred animals, such as cats, 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 Creating Cat Mummies
The process of creating cat mummies in Ancient Egypt included:
- Removal of the Organs of the cat, except the heart
- The body of the cat was dried out using Natron salt and packed with sand
- The Greek historian, Diodorus observed the creation of cat mummies and 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 cats 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 cats were elaborately wrapped in linen
- Facial details of cats, or decorations, were painted on the wrappings of the cat mummy as it was important that the cat mummy's head should resemble the living feline
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