ANCIENT EGYPTIAN EMBALMING PROCESS
Anubis attending the
mummy of Sennedjem The embalming and mummy-making process took up to 70 days and was practiced well into the Roman period. Embalming and mummification are believed to have been carried out by a caste or family and was passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately for historians and archaeologists no record of how they did it has survived.
The Greek historian Herodotus said he witnessed the practice on a trip to Egypt in 484 B.C. "In the best treatment," he wrote, "first they draw out the brains through the nostrils with an iron hook, and what the hook cannot reach is dissolved with drugs..Next they make an incision in the flank with a sharp obsidian blade through which they can extract all internal organs. Then they clean out the body cavity, rinsing it first with palm wine and again with a solution of pounded spices. Then it is filled with pure crushed myrrh, cassia and all other aromatic substances, except frankincense...The incision is sewn up and then the body is placed in natron.”
Within two or three days after death all the hair was shaven off and the body was opened with special stone knives from Ethiopia. The intestines, liver and stomach were removed and placed in alabaster jars. The heart was left in place after the internal organs were removed. Sometimes the body was filled with sawdust, linen, and as well as the aromatic spices that Herodotus mentioned. Beeswax was sometimes pored in the brain cavity. Sometimes you see hair on mummies. This is not because hair keeps growing after a person dies as some have said but because dehydration of the body after death can cause retraction of the skin around hair and nails, giving the illusion that they have grown.
The body was covered in natron several days to prevent the body from decaying. The natron drew water out of the body and preserves it as if it were dried fish. Without water bacteria can not cause decay. Sometimes the tree resin of conifers was used. It too sucks out water. There are stories of the body being dried on a bed of animal heads before it is wrapped in linen.
Natron is a naturally-occurring mixture of baking soda and salt that absorbs moisture and fat. One can still buy chunks of the gray crystalline stuff in the suqs of Cairo. It is still mined in southwest of the Nile Delta and usually sold as washing soda. When it is used in mummification it gives off a strong, nasty stench. Other stuff used in mummy-making such as resinosa lumps of frankincense---which seal bandages when melted---and palm wine---which ancient embalmers used to wash out internal cavities after evisceration---are also available in the markets.
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Embalming and Mummification Rituals in Ancient Egypt
Harold Hays of Universiteit Leiden wrote: “Corresponding in length to the annual period of obscurity of the stars just south of the ecliptic, the ritualized process of embalming and mummification is usually stated as lasting seventy days. First, purification of the corpse was conducted over a period of about three days in a tent called the jbw or zH-nTr. The mummification proper was carried out in a separate structure, called the wabt, “pure place,” or pr-nfr, “good house,” of which Anubis is said to be the Hrj-sStA, “master of secrets,” therein. As a matter of decorum, representation of the ceremonial anointing and wrapping conducted there is avoided in the Pharaonic period, but the recitations accompanying these acts are attested in Roman-era papyri. The ritual instructions of these sources are late in idiom, but the recitations themselves are largely classical in phraseology. From them, one finds at the anointing that the deceased already has qualities of an akh, or exalted spirit. The Coffin Texts and “Book of the Dead” include copies of several spells for the charging and application of amulets like those discovered within mummy bindings, although these copies are often formulated as if the deceased himself is the ritualist. Since at least the New Kingdom, the preparation of the coffin was ritualized and was evidently parallel to mummification, as it also involved anointing, wrapping, and recitation. [Source: Harold Hays, Universiteit Leiden, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]
“Since the Middle Kingdom or even earlier, the mummified corpse appears to have been the object of a set of rites associated with the night hours. In part, this Hour Vigil resumed the rites of embalming, and vignettes like that of Book of the Dead spells 1B and 151 could be understood as emblematic of this aspect of it. The god Seth, nemesis of Osiris, was warded off from the deceased, and a ritualized judgment of the dead may have been enacted during the Hour Vigil, with officiants filling the roles of the gods Isis, Nephthys, Horus, Anubis, and Thoth. <>
“In addition to the Hour Vigil, a set of ritual processions and voyages were conducted within the local necropolis. Just as the Hour Vigil appears to resume the events of embalming and mummification, a ritualized journey to the Delta city of Sais appears to be a re-enactment of the major funeral processions, including those to the necropolis, embalming place, and tomb. The journey to the sacred city of Abydos is regularly displayed in connection with other funerary rituals beginning in the 18th Dynasty. The point of traveling there was for the deceased himself “to ferry the god (sc. Osiris) in his ceremonies” . Notably, husband and wife are sometimes depicted together in this journey, with both described at this point as having been vindicated at the judgment of the dead (mAa xrw “true of voice”). A further and more enigmatic waterborne journey is represented in New Kingdom tombs alongside the journeys to Sais and Abydos.” <>
Embalming and Mummification Rituals in the Ptolemaic, Roman Periods
Christina Riggs of the University of East Anglia wrote: “The Ritual of Embalming is known from two hieratic papyri with a Theban provenance, probably dating to the early first century CE. The ritual was performed by the Hry- sStA (“master of secrets,” stolist), the Xry-Hb (lector priest), and the xtmw-nTr (“divine chancellor” or seal-bearer), assisted by the wt- priests, or embalmers. The text alternates a practical instruction, such as anointing the head or wrapping the feet, with a divine invocation elucidating the action’s magical effect. The special treatment of the head, hands, and feet adduced in the Ritual of Embalming corresponds to evidence from contemporary mummies, many of which are elaborately embalmed, with anointed and gilded skin, and special wrapping or padding in the areas of the head, hands, feet, and genitals. [Source: Christina Riggs, University of East Anglia, UK, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]
“Common among Ptolemaic and Roman funerary texts are both lamentations and glorifications (sAxw) performed after the embalming and mummification of the dead. Lamentations and glorifications were clearly intended for recitation leading up to and surrounding the burial. In lamentation texts, family members or the goddesses Isis and Nephthys mourn and praise the deceased, while glorification texts proclaim – and thus enable – the dead person’s successful transition to a transfigured state of being. The lamentations and glorifications also make references to a vigil being kept over the body of the deceased, like the guarding of Osiris’s body recorded in the Stundenwachen texts of Ptolemaic and Roman temples. For example, two Demotic funerary papyri, Papyrus British Museum 10507 and Papyrus Harkness, contain passages that are related to the Stundenwachen spells attested in temples. Such texts may point to a similar ritual being performed for the dead, alongside the mourning rites and sAxw. The correct performance of all these rituals enabled the deceased to become like Osiris, acquiring a transfigured state among the followers of the god. <>
“A number of papyri, like the Rhind Papyri and the Book of Traversing Eternity, further attest to the close interrelationship between funerary rituals and temple performances by stating that the deceased will take part in temple festivals throughout the year, especially the Sokar festival during the month of Khoiak. The text on a Roman Period mummy mask refers to the rites of the Khoiak festival. Although this probably expresses an ideal, rather than an actual, day of burial, it is possible that funerary celebrations could be timed optimally to coincide with other rituals and festivities. Some papyri bear temple ritual texts that originated in the temple pr-anx (house of life, scriptorium) and were used in the cult of Osiris before they were adapted for use as private funerary papyri by the expedient of adding the deceased’s name.” <>
Removing the Organs from Ancient Egyptian Mummies
Canopic jars The ancient Egyptians believed that dead would use their organs in the next life and thus a great effort was made to preserve them. Embalmers removed internal organs, taking out the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines through a cut in the body and placed them in four sacred, alabaster canopic jars. Early canopic jars had human heads on them. Later ones had the heads of a human, falcon, jackal and ape. Sometime the male sexual organ was also cut off and preserved.
The internal organs were removed with minimal damage to the body through a three-inch incision made with an obsidian blade, which was considerably sharper than bronze and copper tools. The kidneys were ignored, and often left inside the body. There isn’t a word for kidney in the ancient Egyptian language. The chest, abdomen and pelvis cavities were stuffed with tightly rolled linen bundles. This was done to keep the body from collapsing.
The heart was often left in place. Sometimes it was removed, wrapped, and placed back in the body because it was believed to be the "medium of spiritual understanding" and "the organ of thought and emotion." Egyptians believed that the heart was required for final judgement. Only if the heart was as light as the feather of truth would the god of Osiris receive its owner into the afterlife. The brain was thrown out. It had no special significance to the Egyptians.
Recreating the Organ Removal Process of Ancient Egyptian Mummies
In 1994, Bob Brier, a professor of Egyptology at Long Island University and Ronn Wade, an anatomy specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, attempted to replicate the embalming and mummy-making process of the ancient Egyptians--- using only ancient Egyptian-era tools and Herodotus’s description---on a 187-pound Baltimore man who died of heart attack in his seventies and donated his body to science. [Sources: Wendy Marston, Discover, March 2000; Bob Brier, Archaeology, January/February 2001]
Brier and Wade used an obsidian blade to make three-inch incision for removing the internal organs and found the obsidian was sharper than a modern scalpel. The organs were then pulled through the incision, using the fingers and a copper knife. The first organs removed were the upper intestinal tract and pancreas, followed by the spleen, kidneys, and bladder. The intestines posed some difficulties because they were connected to other organs. The stomach was next, followed by the liver and lungs and the heart.
The liver was biggest obstacle and the slit had to extended to five inches to make room for it, and even then Wade said “it like delivering a small child through a tiny opening.” The heart was cut from the lungs with a bronze knife, which sharper than a copper one.
At this point the body weighed 157 pounds. When all the organs were removed, the body cavity was disinfected with palm wine and 29-linen-wrapped packets of natron were placed in the body. They absorbed water and unpleasant smells and aided dessication. The organs were placed on ceramic platters and covered with natron.
Removing the Brain from Ancient Egyptian Mummies
The Egyptians apparently did not appreciate the significance of the brain. After it was drawn through the nose it was thrown away and liquid resin was poured in the skull. Brier and Wade tried to remove the brain through the nose with a hook on two donated heads. Brier told Discover: “The tissue just doesn’t adhere to the tool...It’s too moist; it won’t come out. We had to put the hook and rotate it like a whisk...The brain poured out pink with a little blood, like a strawberry milk shake.”
In Archaeology Brier wrote: “We inserted a long bronze instrument shaped like a miniature harpoon, inside the naval passage and hammered it through the cribiform plate [a thin bone between the eyes] into the cranium with a wooden block. Then we inserted the coat hanger-shaped instrument into the cranium and rotated it for ten minutes on each side, breaking down the brain enough so it would run out when the cadaver was inverted.” To clean the skull they wrapped linen around a thin bronze tool and swabbed out the leftover tissue.
Materials such as mud and sand were placed in the face to prevent the head from having a shrunken appearance and make it look as lifelike as possible.
Ancient Egyptian Mummy-Making Process
Herodotus wrote that after the after the body was covered in natron for “70 days, never longer” the “body is washed and wrapped from head to feet in linen which has been cut into strips and smeared underside with gum, which is commonly used by the Egyptians as glue. In this condition the body is returned to the family.”
Thirty-five to 70 days after death the salt had drawn the water out of the body, which was then drained and dried. The body was washed with perfumed water and wrapped in linen soaked in preservative ointment. Prayers were said while the body was being wrapped. One such prayer went: “O doubly wonderful powerful, eternally young, and very mighty lady of the west and mistress of the east, may breathing take place in the head of the deceased in the netherworld!”
Amulets, fetishes, and pieces of papyrus with magic texts were placed with the mummy wrappings. The most important one was scarab placed on the chest. The pieces of linen was sometimes more than half a meter wide and 60 meters long. An entire mummy might be wrapped in 150 yards or more of linen. Ramses II was wrapped in about 350 yards of linen. With male mummies the penis was often separately wrapped.
Mummies from the Old Kingdom had their arms at their side. Later mummies had their arms crossed over their chest. Royals had the right arm over the left. Onions were sometimes stuffed in the eye sockets of mummies and peppers were sometimes shoved up the nose. As the embalmers became more skilled they inserted artificial eyes, golden tongues, added metal sheaths to hold the fingers in place and used resinous paste to give the corpse some color. In later dynasties the linen strips were often painted bright colors. Sometimes peppercorns were stuffed in the nose to keep it from being flattened during the wrapping.
Herodotus on Embalming and Mummification
Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”:“They mourn and bury the dead like this: whenever a man of note is lost to his house by death, all the women of the house daub their faces or heads with mud; then they leave the corpse in the house and roam about the city lamenting, with their garments girt around them and their breasts showing, and with them all the women of their relatives; elsewhere, the men lament, with garments girt likewise. When this is done, they take the dead body to be embalmed. 86. [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]
“There are men whose sole business this is and who have this special craft. When a dead body is brought to them, they show those who brought it wooden models of corpses, painted likenesses; the most perfect way of embalming belongs, they say, to One whose name it would be impious for me to mention in treating such a matter; the second way, which they show, is less perfect than the first, and cheaper; and the third is the least costly of all. Having shown these, they ask those who brought the body in which way they desire to have it prepared.
“Having agreed on a price, the bearers go away, and the workmen, left alone in their place, embalm the body. If they do this in the most perfect way, they first draw out part of the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, and inject certain drugs into the rest. Then, making a cut near the flank with a sharp knife of Ethiopian stone, they take out all the intestines, and clean the belly, rinsing it with palm wine and bruised spices; they sew it up again after filling the belly with pure ground myrrh and casia and any other spices, except frankincense. After doing this, they conceal the body for seventy days, embalmed in saltpetre; no longer time is allowed for the embalming; and when the seventy days have passed, they wash the body and wrap the whole of it in bandages of fine linen cloth, anointed with gum, which the Egyptians mostly use instead of glue; then they give the dead man back to his friends. These make a hollow wooden figure like a man, in which they enclose the corpse, shut it up, and keep it safe in a coffin-chamber, placed erect against a wall.
“That is how they prepare the dead in the most costly way;40 those who want the middle way and shun the costly, they prepare as follows. The embalmers charge their syringes with cedar oil and fill the belly of the dead man with it, without making a cut or removing the intestines, but injecting the fluid through the anus and preventing it from running out; then they embalm the body for the appointed days; on the last day they drain the belly of the cedar oil which they put in before. It has such great power as to bring out with it the internal organs and intestines all dissolved; meanwhile, the flesh is eaten away by the saltpetre, and in the end nothing is left of the body but hide and bones. Then the embalmers give back the dead body with no more ado.
“The third manner of embalming, the preparation of the poorer dead, is this: they cleanse the belly with a purge, embalm the body for the seventy days and then give it back to be taken away. Wives of notable men, and women of great beauty and reputation, are not at once given to the embalmers, but only after they have been dead for three or four days; this is done to deter the embalmers from having intercourse with the women. For it is said that one was caught having intercourse with the fresh corpse of a woman, and was denounced by his fellow-workman.
“Anyone, Egyptian or foreigner, known to have been carried off by a crocodile or drowned by the river itself, must by all means be embalmed and wrapped as attractively as possible and buried in a sacred coffin by the people of the place where he is cast ashore; none of his relatives or friends may touch him, but his body is considered something more than human, and is handled and buried by the priests of the Nile themselves.”
Prices for Mummy Services
Embalmers charged different rates depending in the services performed. Deluxe mummification often featured things like artificial eyes and hair extensions. For the poor, the bodies were simple allowed to dry ray and were wrapped in coarse linen bandages. Ken Johnson wrote in the New York Times, “Middle-income people had their innards liquefied by injected cedar-tree oil and drained through the rectum, also after 70 days in saltwater. The cheapest method was to give the body an enema before its 70-day immersion.”
In an essay called “How Much Did a Coffin Cost--- The Social and Economic Aspects of the Funerary Arts in Ancient Egypt,” the Egyptologist Kathlyn M. Cooney analyzes data to show that every element in a tomb---including the sarcophagus, canopic jars, shabties, baskets, chests and much more---had its conventional price. [Source: Ken Johnson, New York Times, March 11, 2010]
On the essay Johnson wrote in the New York Times, “A larger point made by Ms. Cooney is that contrary to the impression given by major museum collections, very few Egyptians could afford a coffin, much less a tomb and related accouterments. Because of the expense there was a thriving market in secondhand coffins, obtained most likely from grave robbers. An example in the exhibition is identified as “Coffin of the Lady of the House, Weretwahset, Reinscribed for Bensuipet” (from about 1292 to 1190 B.C.). The painted wooden container’s lid is carved in the form of a regal young woman. Examination of its hieroglyphic inscriptions proves that Bensuipet’s name was written over Weretwahset’s.”
Ms. Cooney likens Egyptian funerals to modern weddings as events designed to display the power and prestige of the celebrants. Religion may have determined iconography, she notes, but “social and economic factors dictated the quality, size, materials and style of every funerary object produced in ancient Egypt.”
Mummification: a Costly, Labor-Intensive Industry?
Dr Joann Fletcher of the University of York wrote for BBC: “Certainly in Egypt mummification was very much a growth industry, with levels of service depending on cost. In the deluxe version, the brain was generally extracted down the nose and the entrails removed before the hollow body was dried out with salts. The dried skin was then treated with complex blends of oils and resins whose precise nature is now being studied using the latest analytical techniques. [Source: Dr Joann Fletcher, BBC, February 17, 2011. Fletcher is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of York and part of the University’s Mummy Research Group |::|]
With hairdressers and beauticians called in to restore a groomed, lifelike appearance, the finished body was then wrapped in many metres of linen; one estate manager called Wah (c.2000 B.C.) had been wrapped in an amazing 375 square metres of material, although this could often be recycled household linen as well as that purpose-made for mummification. |::|
“Covered in a range of protective amulets and placed in its coffin, elaborate funeral ceremonies designed to reactivate the soul within the mummy were accompanied by the words 'You will live again for ever. Behold, you are young again for ever', before the mummy was buried with generous supplies of food, drink and everything the soul of the deceased would need for a comfortable afterlife. |::|
“The Egyptians buried their dead in the great expanses of desert away from the cultivation on the banks of the River Nile, but whereas the wealthy were artificially mummified and placed in specially built tombs, the majority were simply buried in hollows in the sand. Yet here they too were mummified by natural means, as corrosive body fluids drained away into the same hot dry sand which desiccated and preserved their skin, hair and nails. Accidentally uncovering such bodies must have had a profound effect upon those able to recognise individuals who had died sometimes years before, quite literally witnessing eternal life in action.
Mummification of King Tutankhamun
Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The mummification of King Tutankhamun's body may have been more careful than that of his higher status subjects—and his burial was certainly immeasurably more lavishly equipped—but in essence it was not different from the embalmment of any person of reasonable means at his time. Indeed, although people of lesser means and status had to be content with only parts (sometimes very rudimentary parts) of the treatment repertoire available for kings, the difference was for the most part in the amount of time, material, and expertise expended. In principle, the mummification of a king concerned his human body, a part of his identity that he shared with all other human beings. [Source: Dorothea Arnold, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2010, metmuseum.org \^/]
“After a deceased's body was washed and its organs were removed through an abdominal incision to be treated separately, the body was packed during several weeks (70 and 40 days are mentioned in the sources) in natron, a compound of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium sulphate, and sodium chlorite (most recently described as sodium sesquicarbonate Na2CO3.NaHCO3.2H2O), which occurs naturally in Egypt, especially in the Wadi Natrun, west of the Nile Delta. Natron is a desiccating agent. Dozens of small sacks containing natron were found in the pottery containers from KV 54. The small amount of powder contained in these bags indicates that this was most probably not the way in which the major supply of natron was delivered to the embalmers. More likely, these were bags used to stuff the body cavities during and after the dehydration process. \^/
“After the tissues were dehydrated and the body had been treated with resins, herbs, and ointments, some of which may have had antibacterial properties, linen pads, sawdust-filled linen bags, and possibly small bags with natron were placed inside the body cavities to maintain its shape. Then the long process of wrapping started. Layers upon layers of linen sheets and bandages were used to produce the characteristic figure of a mummy. \^/
“About twenty sticks, mostly reeds between 2 inches (5 cm) and 13 3/4 inches (35 cm) long, may have been used for certain probing jobs during the mummification process. Some of them have sharpened and burnt ends, raising the question whether Egyptians had a vague idea about the sterilizing effect of heat. \^/
Canopic jar “Since ancient times, people have wondered about the Egyptian custom of mummification. The Greek historian Herodotus, for instance, has written at length about it. According to the understanding of the ancient Egyptians themselves, the preservation of the human body was necessary so that the soul had a place on earth to which it could return in order to receive offerings and thus survive eternally. It is, however, important to realize that it was not just the preservation of the human bones and tissues that was intended. The wrapping with linen changed forever the shape of the human body and created a new being of divine character that was believed to be able to live forever.” \^/
Trash Leftover From Mummification of King Tutankhamun
Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In the winter of 1907–8, the young British archaeologist Edward R. Ayrton, working for the retired New York lawyer and amateur archaeologist Theodore M. Davis, discovered a pit in the Valley of the Kings about 360 feet (110 m) across from the mouth of the (then still undiscovered) tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62). The Ayrton-Davis pit is today identified as KV 54. It had been cut in antiquity through the surface gravel covering the hillside and into the bedrock on the eastern slope bordering the Valley of the Kings. Measuring approximately 6 x 4 feet (1.90 x 1.25 m), the pit was in the 1920s still about 4 feet 6 inches (1.4 m) deep at the uphill south end and 3 feet 4 inches (1 m) at the downhill north end. Crowded into this fairly small space, Ayrton found more than a dozen gigantic pottery jars, 28 inches (71 cm) high with bulging bodies and necks.[Source: Dorothea Arnold, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2010, metmuseum.org \^/]
“When removed from the pit, they turned out to be filled with a multitude of at first sight unintelligible objects, such as bundled-up linen sheets, bandages, and headscarves ; broken mud seals that had once been attached to strings closing boxes and bundles; sacks of various shapes containing powdery white natron and brownish sawdust; faded floral collars; and a great amount of mostly broken pots that were later joined by Metropolitan Museum conservators into whole vessels. There were also considerable amounts of animal bones and other bits and pieces such as vessel covers of reed material, sticks, and little basins of unfired clay. Rather disappointed with this discovery of what looked like scrap, Theodore Davis donated the whole lot to the fledgling Metropolitan Museum collection of Egyptian Art in 1909. \^/
Canopic jar “However, the name of King Tutankhamun on some of the mud seals and torn linens in the Ayrton-Davis pots caused knowledgeable archaeologists to take notice. Indeed, Howard Carter and Arthur Mace stated in The Tomb of TutankhAmen: Discovered by the Late Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter (London, 1923) that the Davis discovery had served as one of the leads by which the intact tomb of the king was finally located in 1922. \^/
“In the meantime, Herbert E. Winlock, the Metropolitan Museum's curator and long-time excavator, had discovered assemblages of rather similar objects and materials in the neighborhood of several nonroyal tombs in western Thebes. He was thus able to identify the linen sheets and bandages and sacks of chaff and natron from the large jars as leftovers from the embalming of King Tutankhamun's body. It appears that the ancient Egyptians did not simply discard the remains from the mummification process but collected them in pottery containers or coffins and buried them in the neighborhood of a deceased's tomb. This was not a simple matter of trash disposal but reflected the belief that even traces of a person's physical remains contain something of his or her identity. The objects from the Davis pit became thus a means to reconstruct some real activities that took place at a royal funeral more than 3,000 years ago. \^/
“Three especially interesting pieces found in KV 54 were most probably headscarves worn by the embalmers. They were made of very fine linen, folded double and cut to a roughly semicircular shape. Linen tapes were sewn into the straight upper edge that served as the front of the kerchief. "When being put on," Winlock wrote, "the front of these kerchiefs was probably held between the forefinger and thumb of each hand while the back was thrown up over the head, and the tapes were then carried back under the kerchief and tied." Creases along the corners show that these corners were tucked under the fastened edges above or behind the ears. Repeated laundering, wear on the fronts, and clear signs of darning indicate that these were cherished pieces of clothing that had been used repeatedly before they were buried with Tutankhamun's mummification material. The kerchief was died blue with indigo. \^/
“The German Egyptologist cum botanist Renate Germer determined from the seasonal selection of the flowers in the Museum collars and their counterpart on the king's innermost coffin that Tutankhamun's funeral took place between the end of February and mid-March. A slightly later date of March to April was advocated by Rolf Krauss.” \^/
Recreating the Mummy-Making Process
After Wade and Brier put the packets of natron in the body the placed it on a wooden platform and placed a huge bag of natron on it and placed it in a room whose temperature ranged between 90 degrees and 107 degrees F. Brier has earlier collected 580 pounds of natron from “salt fields” 60 miles outside of Cairo
After 35 days, the body was retrieved. The natron was wet and clumped around the body and smelled like “wet sand.” The body was rigid and , blackened and had shrunk from 157 pounds to 79 pounds, meaning it had lost 77 pounds of water. For all intents and purposes it was a mummy without strips of cloth.
In the next to last stage the body was rubbed with strips of linen that had been soaked in an oil containing frankincense, myrrh, cedar, lotus and palm wine. Then the body was wrapped in linen strips secured in places with a laquer made of cedar resin. The body was then left to dry out further for 140 days as opposed to 35 more as suggested by Herodotus). Afterwards it weighed 70 pounds. In the final stage the entire body was wrapped with linen, with each limb, toe and finger wrapped individually.
Five years after the mummy was made it remained virtually unchanged from the day the process was complete. There was no bacterial decay and the skin was intact.
Aufderheide has mummified a dog that was going to be put to sleep anyway and did come CT scans to spot lesions, swelling and other abnormalities that could be used in determining ailments in real mummies.
Ancient Egyptian Mummy Preservation
The preservation of the mummies has as much to do with the dry climate of Egypt as the embalming of the mummies. The tarlike unguents used on many mummies bodies caused chemical reactions that carbonized the bones and tissues. The best preserved mummies were embalmed with dry natron salts rather than salts applied in a solution.
The exact ingredients of the embalming materials has long been a mystery. In the early 2000s, Richard Evershed at the University of Bristol in Britain took samples from 13 mummies and analyzed them using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry and found out found that most embalming concoctions were a mixture of fats, resins, perfumes and waxes.
All the mummies studied by Evershed had been smeared with fat, mostly plant oils although fat from cattle, sheep and goats was also used. As the fats dried they hardened and formed a barrier that kept humidity, moisture and bacteria out. Sometimes the fats formed a shiny coating that was like varnish. They were also often coated with beeswax and resins from coniferous trees from Lebanon, Syria and Turkey
There was little evidence of palm wine, which would have evaporated away. There was no evidence of bitumen, which is ironic considering that is the material that gave mummies their name. The most probable explanation of why there was a link to the Arabic word for bitumen is that mummies blackened by age or exposure to air looked like bitumen was applied to them. Sometimes when animal mummies are being studied gases combine and the mummy explodes.
Secret of Preventing Mummy Rot: Removing the Internal Organs
Dr Joann Fletcher of the University of York wrote for BBC: “As burial practices for the wealthy became more sophisticated, those once buried in a hole in the ground demanded specially built tombs more befitting their status. Yet here they were no longer in direct contact with the sand so their bodies rapidly decomposed. This meant that an artificial means of preserving the body was required, and so began a long process of experimental mummification, and a good deal of trial and error! [Source: Dr Joann Fletcher, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“Although recent excavations at the site of Hierakonpolis suggest that the Egyptians were wrapping their dead in linen as early as c.3400 B.C., with linen impregnated with resin or even plaster to retain the contours of the body used by c.3000 B.C., it wasn't until around 2600 B.C. that the Egyptians finally cracked it by removing the internal organs where putrefaction actually begins. And for the next three millennia they refined and perfected their techniques of embalming both humans and animals to become the greatest practitioners of mummification the world has ever seen.” |::|
Ancient Egyptian Mummy Objects
Nubian shabti Various object were wrapped with the mummies. These included amulets, bangles, armbands, rings and pectorals made of gold and lapis lazuli. In some cases the toes were protected with thimbles of gold. Some objects seem unlikely to be worn in real life and must have been worn by mummies only.
Many of them were amulets expected to help the mummies’ owners in the afterlife. The mysterious eye warded off evil spirits. Scarabs were associated with the rising sun and regeneration. Bird represented ba , an aspect of the mummy’ soul and was thought to keep the mummy in contact with the world by flying out the burial shaft into the sunlight in the day and returning to the mummy at night.
Amulets were carried by the living and wrapped with mummies. The mummy of King Tut had 143 of them. Their primary purpose was to attract “sympathetic magic” that would protect the wearer from misfortune and maybe bring some good luck. Amulets were inserted in different stages of the embalming process, each with special spells and incantations to go along with it. Some bore inscriptions and were made of materials, such as gold, faience (a blue stone), lapis lazuli, carnelian, green feldspar, and green jasper.
Amulets with protective cobras, ba (winged symbols of the soul), re (sun disk), ankhs, and scarabs were popular. There were amulets for limbs, organs and other body parts and ones derived from the hieroglyphics for “good,” “truth,” and “eternity.” Hearts, hands and feet were often found on mummies in places where the real body parts were normally found, the idea being that they could be offered as substitutes if the real ones were coveted by demons.
There were amulets for at least 50 principal gods and a countless number of local ones. These amulets took the form of the gods themselves or their symbols. Popular ones included Anabus (a jackal), Horus (a falcon), Thoth (an ibis) and Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love and fertility. The old amulets were found in simple burials dating to 3100 B.C.
The amulet symbolizing udjat (health)---the eye of Horus---connected the wearer with the god Horus, who lost his eye in a cosmic battle with the god Seth and later had the eye restored. The udjat is regarded as one of the most powerful of all amulets, preserving the wearer and making him strong in the afterlife. Tyet amulets of Isis are red in color, symbolizing her blood. They also brought strength and good health to the wearer.
Objects Taken by Ancient Egyptians to the Afterlife
falco found in King Tut's tomb Ken Johnson wrote in New York Times that the ancient Egyptians believed that life “was only a prologue to the main attraction, the afterlife, and they devoted much of their tremendous creative and technological ingenuity to ensuring that their dead---the wealthy ones, anyway---would have everything needed on the next plane of existence. They pickled the bodies of the deceased, stocked their graves and tombs with food, drink, jewelry, furniture, pets, reading material and whatever else that might come in handy upon awakening in the next dimension.” [Source: Ken Johnson, New York Times, March 11, 2010]
In 2010, the Brooklyn Museum hosted an exhibition called “To Live Forever: Art and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt,” which focused on objects for the afterlife and explored all facets of the Egyptian funerary industry. Organized by Edward Bleiberg, the museum’s curator of Egyptian art, the exhibition presented more than 100 objects, from massive stone sarcophagus covers and elaborately decorated wooden coffins to statuettes and elegant ink drawings on sheets of papyrus.
“One of the exhibition’s least prepossessing objects,” Johnson wrote, “is a terra-cotta sarcophagus lid molded rather crudely into a cartoonish, bust-length portrait of a man. Made sometime between 1292 and 1075 B.C., it is like the work of an untrained folk artist imitating the kind of deluxe Egyptian artistry that museums have made more familiar. It is included to demonstrate that the quality of a coffin depended on what the family could afford. Just like today, in ancient Egypt professional coffin makers offered a range of options priced according to the cost of material and labor. Clay, painted to resemble royal sarcophagi, was the material of choice for budget-minded customers.
“Another revealing piece, and a more beautiful one, is an 8 ½-inch-tall figure of a man smoothly carved in lustrous dark wood, from about 1400 to 1336 B.C. It is a particularly lovely example of a shabty, a magical servant that would do chores for the deceased in the afterlife. Rich people had many shabties made of precious materials, including wood, which was a rare commodity. The less fortunate had to settle for shabties made of faience, a glazed earthenware. A picture caption in the excellent catalog explains that while the wealthy might have a different shabty for every day of the year, “40 shabties were an ideal number to own in the Ramesside Period” because that provided “enough workers for each of the 30 days of the month plus overseers and foremen.”
“Faience pieces did not necessarily look cheap, however, so rich as well as poor had shabties made from it. Among the exhibition’s most striking objects is a weird jade-green faience sculpture less than three inches high representing a dwarf standing with each foot on the head of an alligator and each hand gripping a snake by the neck. Identified as Pataikos or a form of the dwarf-god Bes, this little fellow was put into a tomb to protect the dead.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018