Initially, early Egyptians used to bury their dead in small pits, wherein the bodies would get dehydrated and natural mummies were formed. With time, the rituals changed, and they started to cremate the dead in crude tombs. However, problems would arise when these bodies were mutilated by wild animals in the desert. As a solution for this, it was decided to put the bodies in coffins. Problems didn’t end here though, soon enough, the Egyptians realized that the dead bodies in the coffins would decay very soon. The problem of decaying bodies was not taken lightly, as the belief in afterlife was quite prominent among the people of ancient Egypt. Eventually, they came up with preservation of bodies to tackle the problem of decaying, and thus came into existence the process of mummification. Mummification steps kept changing in course of time, as new rituals and methods to preserve bodies were introduced.
Mummification in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians were staunch believers of life after death, and hence preserving the bodies of the dead was an important aspect of their society. The basic steps in the process of mummification in ancient Egypt were basically categorized into two parts – embalming and wrapping the dead. Given below is the ancient Egyptian mummification process step by step.
Ancient Egyptian Mummification: Steps of Embalming the Body
Embalming was the process of preserving the body of the dead. This was done with the help of advanced knowledge of science. Ancient Egyptians were well-versed with the human anatomy, and this knowledge played a crucial role in preservation of the bodies.
- The process of embalming began in a tent referred to as the ‘ibu‘ or the ‘place of purification’, where the dead body was washed with palm wine, and rinsed with the water from river Nile.
- A small cut was made on the left side of the body, and some internal organs, like the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines were removed. This was done as these organs were believed to be the first to decompose.
- Next the brain was removed using a long hook, one of the most important mummification tools, which was inserted into the body through the nose.
- Next came the drying stage, wherein the body was stuffed and covered with natron, and allowed to dry for a period of 40 days.
- After 40 days of drying, the body was again washed with the water from river Nile, and smeared with sweet smelling oils, so that the body could retain its elasticity.
- As the last step towards embalming, the body was filled with dry matter, such as sawdust and linen. Finally, it was again smeared with sweet smelling oils, and thus the body was ready to be wrapped in linen.
Each of these internal organs was put into a separate canopic jar. These canopic jars were put in a canopic chest and buried in tombs, as the Egyptians believed that the dead would need these organs in their afterlife. Read more on mummification facts.
Ancient Egyptian Mummification: Steps of Wrapping the Body
After embalming, the body was wrapped in linen and placed in the coffins. They followed a particular technique of wrapping, the steps of which are given below.
- Next came the process of wrapping the body, wherein various parts of the body were wrapped with linen. The wrapping started with head, followed by other parts, in order of neck, fingers, toes, arms and legs.
- While wrapping the body, the secret amulets, i.e. the Isis knot and the Plummet, were placed between the layers of wraps. This was done as the Egyptians believed that these amulets would protect the dead during his journey to the underworld.
- While the body was wrapped, a priest recited the spells from the ‘Book of the Dead’. This was done to ward off the evil spirits, that could possibly hinder the persons journey to the underworld.
- The arms and legs were tied together, a scroll with the spells from the ‘Book of the Dead’ was placed between the hands of the dead, and the entire body was wrapped from head to the toe.
- While wrapping, the entire body was smeared with a resin, which would act like a glue, to hold the linen strips together. A cloth with the picture of Osiris – the Egyptian God of the Underworld, was wrapped around the body.
- After this, another large cloth was wrapped around the body, and linen strips were wrapped around the cloth to keep it in place. After execution of all these mummification steps, finally the mummy was ready.
Next, the mummy was placed in the first coffin, and then the first coffin was place into the second one. This was followed by various ceremonies, including the actual funeral and the opening of the mouth ceremony, which was believed to help the dead to breathe and speak. The mummy was then placed within the sarcophagus – a stone coffin with carvings on it, and kept in the tomb, which was its final resting place.