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Mummification process




Embalming, believed to have originated among the Egyptians probably before 4000 BC. From the Egyptians, the practice of embalming spread to other ancient peoples, including the Assyrians, Jews, Persians, and Scythians.
mummification process

Much of what we know about the actual process is based on the writings of early historians such as Herodotus who carefully recorded the process during his travels to Egypt around 450 B.C. Present-day archaeologists and other specialists are adding to this knowledge. The development of x-rays now makes it possible to x-ray mummies without destroying the elaborate outer wrappings.

By studying the x-rays or performing autopsies on unwrapped bodies, experts are learning more about diseases suffered by the Egyptians and their medical treatment. A better idea of average height and life span comes from studying the bones. By learning their age at death, the order and dates of the Egyptian kings becomes a little clearer. Even ties of kinship in the royal line can be suggested by the striking similarities or dissimilarities in the skulls of pharaohs that followed one another. Dead now for thousands of years, the mummy continues to speak to us.


The mummification process took seventy days. Special priests worked as embalmers, treating and wrapping the body. Beyond knowing the correct rituals and prayers to be performed at various stages, the priests also needed a detailed knowledge of human anatomy. All the body parts were believed to be reunited in the afterlife and the body would become whole again. But the priests were not the only ones busy during this time. Although the tomb preparation usually had begun long before the person's actual death, now there was a deadline, and craftsmen, workers, and artists worked quickly. There was much to be placed in the tomb that a person would need in the Afterlife. Furniture and statuettes were readied; wall paintings of religious or daily scenes were prepared; and lists of food or prayers finished. Through a magical process, these models, pictures, and lists would become the real thing when needed in the Afterlife.

The first step in the process was the removal of all internal parts that might decay rapidly. During the removal, the body is placed on a slanted table. The removed parts and blood are collected in a bowl placed under the table.

There were three different ways to extract the brain, used in different time periods that mummies were made: In the early times, the brain was taken out by inserting a hook through the nostrils and drilling on the bone that separates the nasal cavity and the brain cavity. The brain was either being picked out piece by piece or being stirred into liquid state. Turning the body upside down spilled the liquid brain out.

Later, they would take one of the eyes out and pull the brain out by sticking a hook into the hole where the optic nerve connected to the brain. The last mummies made in Egypt had their brains extracted by poking a small hole in the scull in the back of the head.

The embalmers then removed the lungs, stomach, liver and intestines through a cut usually made on the left side of the abdomen. A special salt called natron is used for preserving of stomach, intestines, livers and lungs. After the removal process, palm wine and spices were rubbed on the body to kill bacteria.

The heart was sometimes left in the body, because it was thought to be responsible for thought, memory and intelligence and the mummy needed it to be judged in the next world. In later times, the heart was taken out, embalmed and replaced by a stone scarab amulet as a symbol of renewed life.

A four-chambered box made of wood, clay or stone is used to store these dried internal organs. The box is then put in the tomb with the mummy. Later, the organs were preserved separately in special boxes or jars today called canopic jars or replaced within the body.

The embalmers next removed all moisture from the body. This they did by covering the body with natron, a type of salt which has great drying properties, and by placing additional natron packets inside the body. After 40 days, embalmers removed the internal packets and lightly washed the natron off the body. The result was a very dried-out but recognizable human form.

All the empty cavities of the torso are then filled the cavities with garment impregnated with balsam and aromatic substances. The Assyrians used honey in embalming, the Persians used wax, and the Jews used spices and aloes. Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey and wax.

The hole where the internal organs were taken out was covered with an embossed golden panel that had a picture of the eye of Udjat, the magic eye of Horus, who protected the dead.

The  deshydrated body would be then rubbed with a mixture of cedar oil, wax, natron and gum to soften the skin preventing it from cracking.

Next the wrapping began. Each mummy needed hundreds of yards of linen. The priests carefully wound the long strips of linen around the body, sometimes even wrapping each finger and toe separately before wrapping the entire hand or foot. In order to protect the dead from mishap, amulets were placed among the wrappings and prayers and magical words written on some of the linen strips. Often the priests placed a mask of the person's face between the layers of head bandages. At several stages the form was coated with warm resin and the wrapping resumed once again. At last the priests wrapped the final cloth or shroud in place and secured it with linen strips. The mummy was complete.

As part of the funeral, priests performed special religious rites at the tomb's entrance. The most important part of the ceremony was called the "Opening of the Mouth". A priest touched various parts of the mummy with a special instrument to "open" those parts of the body to the senses enjoyed in life and needed in the Afterlife. Finally, the mummy was put into one or several coffins and transported to the burial chamber where it was placed into a sarcophage. Then all entrances were sealed up and the mummy left until its awakening.


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