How Did Ancient Egyptians Make Mummies?
Some people might ask another question first: Why did ancient Egyptians make mummies? The answer might seem obvious. They did it to preserve the bodies so that the person would have life after death. But then we come to the second question: How did they make mummies? How did they come up with just the right technique to preserve a human body for centuries?
Most of the evidence from archaeology and written evidence shows that the first mummies were made with simple wrappings. Linen bandages were wound around the body in several layers. But since there was no embalming or other preservative used the body decayed rather rapidly. Egyptians did take out many of the internal organs, which slowed the decay process but not for any extended period.
Eventually the Egyptians began soaking the linen in a liquid that was a specific type of resin. This hardened with time to provide a protective casing that slowed decay. But even this wasn’t enough to make the body last long enough to “prosper” in the afterlife.
When the chief embalmer and his assistant began to use a solution called natron the bodies were very well preserved. Natural salts were the key ingredient in this soaking solution. Other drying materials were used as well. Internal organs were removed so that the body cavity could be stuffed with linen or even sawdust. Overall, the mummification process could take two months or more.
Long Wait for the Funeral
As the mummification process was fine tuned over the years the length of time between death and burial grew longer. Only certain individuals were involved in the process of preparing a mummy for placement in a pyramid or other special structure. In fact, some written history records the chief embalmer as “controller of mysteries” while the assistant was the “seal bearer” from God.
This may seem to be a complex and time-consuming process to us but the culture and beliefs in Egypt at the time were very different from those in the 21st century. As mentioned, preserving the body for a long afterlife was very important. In addition, the communities viewed life and death with a different set of values than those we are familiar with.
In spite of the importance of body preservation and the belief in afterlife, Egyptians put little or no value on the brain. In most cases this organ was thrown away as “useless.” The heart was generally left in place and preserved, however.
Internal organs that were removed from the body were often preserved in jars and sometimes were wrapped in the same type of linen that covered the body. Jars were often decorated with specific symbols or representations of various gods.
In addition to the attention given to preservation and to certain organs or body parts, the preparers used oils and scented liquids in the process. The tradition of burial by mummification was common thousands of years ago but gradually died out in the first few centuries after the birth of Christ.