For more information on Egyptian mummies and other often counter-intuitive facts of ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization.
The Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died they made a journey to the next world. They believed that in order to live in the next world their body had to be preserved. A preserved body is called a mummy. While elaborate versions of this practice were only reserved for the highest levels of Egyptian society, mummification was a cornerstone of Egyptian religion.
After death a body begins to decompose. In order to prevent a body from decomposing it is necessary to deprive the tissues of moisture and oxygen.
The earliest Egyptians buried their dead in shallow pits in the desert. The hot, dry sand quickly removed moisture from the dead body and created a natural mummy. However, the Egyptians discovered that if the body was first placed in a coffin, it would not be preserved.
In order to ensure that the body was preserved the Ancient Egyptians began to use a process called mummification to produce their mummies. This involved embalming the body and then wrapping it in thin strips of linen.
The mummification process took around 70 days and involved the following steps:
1. The body was washed
2. A cut was made on the left side of the abdomen and the internal organs – intestines, liver, lungs, stomach, were removed. The heart, which the Ancient Egyptians believed to be the centre of emotion and intelligence, was left in the body for use in the next life.
3. A hooked instrument was used to remove the brain through the nose. The brain was not considered to be important and was thrown away.
4. The body and the internal organs were packed with natron salt for forty days to remove all moisture.
5. The dried organs were wrapped in linen and placed in canopic jars. The lid of each jar was shaped to represent one of Horus’ four sons. The picture (above) taken by Nina Aldin Thune shows from left to right –
Imsety, who had a human head – guardian of the liver
Hapy, who had the head of a baboon – guardian of the lungs
Qebehsenuf, who had the head of a falcon – guardian of the intestines
Duamatef, who had the head of a jackal – guardian of the stomach
6. The body was cleaned and the dried skin rubbed with oil.
7. The body was packed with sawdust and rags and the open cuts sealed with wax
8. The body was wrapped in linen bandages. About 20 layers were used and this took 15 to 20 days.
9. A death mask was placed over the bandages
10. The bandaged body was placed in a shroud (a large sheet of cloth) which was secured with linen strips.
11. The body was then placed in a decorated mummy case or coffin.
Through this process mummies were interred into their tombs. Archeologists continue to find them at excavation sites throughout areas of ancient Egyptian settlement.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about Egypt in the ancient world. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Ancient Egypt.