The ancient Egyptians were an enigmatic culture who continue to capture the interest of countless scholars and people today. A primary captivating feature of ancient Egyptian culture was their burial process, most famously their mummies. But the entirety of the Egyptian burial process is a complex and fascinating matter, and the significance of their burial practices are much more than decorative tombs and sarcophagi. In my paper I will cover the topic of ancient Egyptian burial practices. I will discuss what those burial practices were (i.e. mummification, object placement, grave goods, etc.) as well as the meanings of those practices and their significance. I will address questions such as: why did the ancient Egyptians practice burial rituals? What were the sociocultural meanings that underlined these Egyptian burial activities? What can the study of Egyptian burials tell archaeologists about the ancient Egyptian culture? In discussing these ancient issues, I will argue for the importance in understanding ancient Egyptian burial practices, for not only were these practices important to ancient Egyptians, but they are also important in archaeologists’ understanding of ancient Egyptian society and culture.
Ancient Egyptian burial practices were indeed for the dead, but an overemphasis on this overshadows the importance of these practices for the living. Aesthetics also enhanced the experience for the living and made an impactful social memory. The aesthetics can be seen through the specific objects people chose to go into the graves. The burial practices not only reflected the identity of the individual but also the ancient Egyptians’ impressions of the social world that surrounded them (Stevenson 2007:76-77, 88). The ancient Egyptians also believed that the resurrection of their loved ones could be attained through burial rituals and by serving their kings. For the Egyptians, the worship of a god(s) was not enough in itself to raise the dead. Therefore, the living played an active role through their participation in ritual burials. The importance of the ritual burials both for the living and for the dead can be seen in the designs of tombs, the mummification of bodies, food offerings left with the deceased, and the burial processes. The burial rituals reminded the grieving people that the bereaved were once alive (Agai 2015:1,7). It becomes apparent that the burial rituals of the ancient Egyptians were done much with the same intent as modern people living today. Each individual part of the burial process was part of a larger effort to pay homage to lost loved ones as well as provide a community-wide opportunity to grieve for the dead. There are also Egyptian burial practices that carry heavy religious symbolism, motivating factors, and implications. The practice of mummification, specifically, is peppered with religious undertones. Mummifying bodies enabled the ancient Egyptians to excellently preserve the bodies of the deceased. With a body well intact, the deceased individual would be well prepared to enjoy his or her existence in the afterlife (Davey 2017:21).
When people think about ancient Egypt, one of the first images that pops into their minds are the colorful, decorous sarcophagi and elaborate tombs that the ancient Egyptians were buried in. But the impressiveness of these burials is not superficial; it is rich with cultural, societal, and religious implications. My research on the matter will prove that a thorough understanding of ancient Egyptian burial practices is necessary for understanding the magnificent culture that has captivated minds for millennia.
Agai, J. M.
2015. Resurrection imageries: A study of the motives for extravagant burial rituals in ancient Egypt. Verbum et Ecclesia 36(1):1-7.
2017. Ancient Egypt: Mummification and burial sites as historical resources. Agora 52(2):20-23.
2007. The aesthetics of Predynastic Egyptian burial: Funerary performances in the fourth millennium BC. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 22:76-92.