Today’s lecture about the pyramids got me thinking about the Egyptian’s mummification process. It’s such a fascinating and horrifying process. After a pharaoh, a royal family member, or a wealthy individual dies he or she would usually goes through mummification so their body could be preserved. This complicated process took a lot of trial and error until it became more fully developed during the New Kingdom.
After the individual dies, embalmers wash the body with palm wine. Next the organs are removed. Among those removed were the brain, lungs, liver, stomach and intestines which were then dried out. The heart was always left in the body because the Egyptian’s believed it was needed in the afterlife. It was thought that your heart was weighed against a feather. If it was heavier than the feather then you could not move on to the afterlife. The embalmers then covered the corpse in natron, which removed the moisture in the body. The body is then left for forty days. After the time is completed water from the Nile was used to rinse the body off and then oil was poured on the body to keep the skin elastic. Linen was then wrapped around the dried out organs and put back into the body. In earlier times the organs were put in canopic jars. Canopic jars were limestone or pottery jars that stored and preserved organs. When this process was no longer used wooden canopic jars were still buried with the body to protect the organs symbolically but not physically. Next the body is stuffed with dry items like sawdust, to make it look more lifelike. The final step is to cover the body with more oils and wrap it in linen.
Lower class citizens could also be mummified but the process was very different. They were buried by the Nile while wealthy individuals were buried in tombs. They could also be buried in underground holes in the desert. The hot dry weather worked to mummify them. The rich could also decorate their mummies even more by having a mask put on them. In the case of pharaohs they would have gold masks covered in jewels while others just had painted masks.
Thanks to Herodotus we know information about the mummification process that we would not otherwise have known. Other civilizations practiced mummification as well, but Egypt’s process is by far the most well known.