Ancient Egyptians had very strongbeliefs about their dead; they were obsessed with the afterlife and therequirement to preserve their dead. The mummification process varied from timeperiod to time period but the religious belief that the human body, especiallyone of a Pharaoh, was to be preserved remained through all of ancient Egypt. Amummy is simply the body of a person or even at times an animal that has beenpreserved after death (Barrow 2013). They believed theyhad to preserve these bodies so that they can be used in the afterlife. Thisprocess however, was limited to only the rich. The poor could not afford to bemummified and were simply buried in the sand. This process of mummification wasso important to the people of this time that they even had a god named Anubiswho was the god of mummification.
This process was also not quite simple, itcould take up to seventy days at times. Ancient Egypt went through several timeperiods: Pre-dynastic, Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom. The first time period was known as the pre-dynastic.
Thistime period lasted from about 5000 B.C.-3000 B.C. This time period is when the Egyptianstransitioned from a nomadic past to the foundation of what became known asAncient Egyptian culture. This time period did not necessarily involveintentional mummification but burial practices are visible.
Few mummies havebeen found from the pre-dynastic era and the bodies that have mummified havemostly just been dried by the sun. During this time period, the Egyptians woulddig a pit in the sand and the bodies of the deceased would be placed inside ina fetal position. The body would either face the east, towards the rising sun,or towards the west, towards the setting sun. Evidence of these practices ofthe dead can be seen in the pre-dynastic tomb that was found several years ago.In an article by April Holloway entitled Pre-dynastic tomb sheds light onEgyptian life before Pharaohs she states, “The newly discoveredpre-dynastic tomb dates back to around 3,600 BC… The grave goods suggest theman was an elite member of society,” (Halloway 2014). The way the gravewas set up indicates that the person buried was an elite member of society plusthere’s evidence that grave was later broken into and destroyed indicating hehad enemies.
Also, to indicate that the mummy was an elite member of society,the tomb was surrounded by twenty other burials of humans and animals. Thisburial was made in the later pre-dynastic era leading to how mummies were buriedduring the Early Dynastic Period and the Old Kingdom. The Early DynasticPeriod is where lower and upper Egypt unify and the first real evidence atexperimentation with mummification is evident.
This time period lasted between 3050B.C.- 2686 B.C and consisted of Dynasties Zero, One and Two. During this timeperiod bodies were, “wrapped in linen and placed in rectangular clay or woodencoffin in a flexed position with their arms by their sides,” (Hill 2016) At this time thebodies internal organs, especially the ones in the abdomen, would not beremoved and bandages has natron and resins on it which helped preserve thebodies. The first royal mummy to every be discovered was the arm of Djer, whowas part of the first dynasty. The arm however, may have been his wife’s; when itwas first discovered it was not necessarily tested well and the arm ended upbeing thrown out by the person who was meant to study it.
In 1911 a second bodywas found that came from a woman in the Second Dynasty. Each of her limbs were separatelywrapped with natron and washed. This leads to the mummification process thattook place during the Old Kingdom. After the Early Dynastic period came the Old Kingdomwhich lasted from about 2686 B.C- 2171 B.C.
This time period also consisted ofdynasties three all the way through six. During this time period, pyramidsbecame a big thing for Pharaohs and each Pharaoh had his own special requestfor what he wanted. With pyramids becoming so big, so did different methods ofmummification. The most popular mummies were linen mummies.
Versions of thiswas also seen during the Early Dynastic period. The body would be wrapped in alinen that had been treated with natron and sometimes resin to help model thebody. During this time, details of the face would also occasionally be painted ontop of the linen. Another popular method for mummification during the OldKingdom was defleshing.
For this this process, “All flesh was removed from thebody and then the bones wrapped in linen” (London 2003).The third mostpopular method at this time was stucco mummies. For this process, the bodywould also be covered with a thin linen and then would be covered by stuccoplaster, the body would be remodeled in the plaster. Also, during this timeperiod the internal organs began to be removed from the body by an incisionmade on the left side of the body. The first known canopic jar was also fromthis time period containing the internal organs of Queen Hetepheres. The end ofthe Old Kingdom is also when the first mummy mask appears which leads into theMiddle Kingdom. Rightafter the Old Kingdom came the First Intermediate Period which lasted from 2181B.
C- 2040 B.C. This included dynasties seven to ten however, the mummificationprocess did not differ much from the Old Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom followed andlastedfrom 2040 B.C to 1782 B.C and included dynasties eleven and twelve. Egyptbecame very wealthy during this time period and many inferior pyramids werebuilt that have crumbled by now. When it came to mummification, the process didnot differ to much form the Old Kingdom but some progress was made.
The bodies were all still wrapped in linen butnow most heads had a mummy mask to go with it. Canopic jars were also verypopular during this time. The elite canopic jars all contained the viscerawhile the less wealthy also included canopic jars in their burials but did not havethe necessary resources to properly remove the internal organs from the body toplace into these jars. Several big differences of this time period included, “theuse of resin… visceraweredissolved and partially extracted through the rectum or/and vagina…” (London 2003). Resin was used inthe Old Kingdom but now the skin was coated with it instead of just the linensoccasionally. Also, while most internal organs in the abdomen were removed andplaced in the canopic jars, the heart would remain in the body. The process ofmummification only got more advanced as the dynasties continued.
Following the Middle Kingdom came the NewKingdom which lasted from about 1570 B.C to 1070 B.C. This included dynastieseighteen through twenty and some even say it was the height of Egyptian civilization.The treatment to bodies, especially to royalty, greatly improved during thisperiod.
The body would be laid in natron and the internal organs would still beremoved. Now however, the brain would also be removed through the nose using along and thing metal tool. The process of removing the internal organs and theabdomen remained very similar, the only difference is the location of the incision.Instead of the side of the body it was now in the lower torso. The brain wasthrown away and the heart was also removed in this time period but was placedin the canopic jars along with the liver, stomach and intestines.
The mummiesfrom these dynasties also began to look more lifelike. For example, “The noseof Ramesses 11 was filled with seeds and bolstered with an animal bone to helpkeep its distinctive shape,” (Hill 2016). A piece of linenmade to look like an eye would also commonly be placed over the mummy to almostmake it look alive. Duringthe Third Intermediate Period the art of mummification was perfected.
This timeperiod lasted between 1069 B.C and 525 B.C and included the twenty first totwenty fifth dynasties. Cuts would be made in mummy and filled with mud,sawdust and resin making the mummy look much more realistic. The viscera werealso treated and placed back inside of the body now instead of the canopicjars, but the jars still remained a popular aspect of Ancient Egyptian mummy burials.
The bodies were also painted, men were red and women were yellow, and cosmeticson the face were placed on both sexes. The eye sockets were also filled witheither glass or stone to make the mummy look as realistic as possible. Afterthe twenty first dynasty however, there was a drastic decline in themummification process. This leads into the Late Period which lasted between 525B.C and 332 B.C containing dynasties twenty-six to thirty-one. A few newmethods were attempted here like to eviscerate the body but ended up damaging itinstead.
Towards the end of this time period bodies were just covered witheither resin or bitumen and poorly/quickly rapped. Very few propermummifications were done towards the end of this time period. Mummification was a big part of AncientEgyptian culture and religion. Their belief in the afterlife and what they hadto do to get there was a big aspect of their daily lives, hence buildingpyramids which were the tombs for the elite. As time went on however, aftermastering the process, the importance of mummification slowly began to dwindle.The Ancient Egyptians will always be remembered for their mummies and how glamourousthey made the tombs of the elite.