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Egyptian Mummification

 
"Gone am I, caught by the Underworld, yet cleansed and alive in the beyond." - An Old Kingdom funerary text

Ancient Egyptians believed in three essential human elements, the ka (the 'double' of the person), the ba (the soul) and the akh (the spirit). To make the transition into the next life these elements had to be reunited in the body, so the body needed to be preserved.

The process of treating the body (which led to mummification) was established in the Early Dynastic period (3100 - 2686 BCE) and remained the preferred method into Roman times (30B CE - 600 CE). The New Kingdom period (1567-1085 BCE) saw the practice at its most prominent.

The method used in the New Kingdom period was carried out by priests and took 70 days to complete. The internal organs (excluding the heart) were removed, then the brain through the nose, then the abdominal organs through a cavity cut into the left side of the abdomen. These organs were treated and dehydrated with natron (a natural mixture of carbonate, bicarbonate, chloride and sulphate of sodium) before being dried, anointed and immersed in molten resin.

The body was packed in natron and fragrant resins. To completely dehydrate the body took 40 days. The body cavities were then packed with a combination of resin-soaked linen, bags of spices or sawdust. The body was anointed with unguents before being treated with molten resin. Finally, the body was wrapped with bandages. Wrapping could take at least two weeks to complete and take up to 300 metres of cloth.

The gods and goddesses played a vital role in Egyptian life. The story of Osiris (the Egyptian god of death, resurrection and fertility) determined the ritual for preparing the dead for the next world. Embalming was the most common method used but was generally restricted to those who could afford it. 'Canopic' jars for storing the internal organs represented the four sons of Horus (son of Osiris and god of kingship). Anubis, either depicted as a jackal or a jackal-headed human, was the patron of embalming and responsible for leading the dead to the afterlife.


Amulets:
Amulets were believed to have special powers to protect the body and bring luck. Some amulets were worn in daily life, but there were also special funerary amulets which often featured important gods and goddesses. Funerary amulets and spell scripts were often placed in the wrappings of mummies to help on the journey to the afterlife.

Ushabti figures:
Ushabti figures were made in the image of the deceased and acted as servants in the afterlife. They performed agricultural chores that followed the annual flooding of the Nile, which was important in the world of the living and of the dead.
Related Objects:

Related Objects


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