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Mummification in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, mummification was considered integral to one's afterlife. The mummified body provided a place for a person's ba, or spirit, to return to the body after death.

The process began with the evisceration of the body. All internal organs were removed- except the heart. The heart had to remain in place, it would testify for the deceased person in the afterlife. Often a scarab or other amulet would be placed over the heart to protect it in its voyage through the netherworld.

The brain was usually removed. A long, slightly hooked tool was introduced into the brain through the nose, swirled around to liquefy the brain. The head was then tipped forward and all contents of the skull poured out, again through the nose. It is not uncommon, as with our mummy, that the brain was left in place. It simply dried up and shrank during mummification.

The next step was to dessicate the body. The deceased was laid out under a mound of natron salts, salts native to the area, and not unlike today's baking powder. Over a period of days, the salt absorbed all the moisture, the flesh shrank, and the skin darkened.

Egyptians used resins, cassia, cedar oil, myrrh, cassia, and palm wine as drying or anti-microbal agents in the embalming of the mummy. These, like the natron salts, helped to protect the body from decay.

The lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver were dried out and each placed in a canopic jar. The jars came in sets of four, and each of the Four Sons of Horus were assigned the duy of protecting the contents of one of the vessels.

The proliferation of tomb raidings led many ancient Egyptians to be concerned about the preservation of their internal organs in death. Canopic jars came to serve a symbolic purpose in one's burial, while a person's own mummified organs were placed inside the body during mummification.

Did you know?

During the mummification process, linen wrappings were often heavily steeped in resins before being placed around the head. This made the head area look considerably darker than the rest of the mummy.


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