Antiquity, vast and richly textured, cloaks the land of Ancient Egypt. Sustained, by the Nile River, Egypt flourished for twenty-seven centuries after bursting into outstanding splendor in the Fourth Millennium before Christ.
Because of their intense preoccupation with the afterlife, mummification became part of the burial practices of the Egyptians and continued for thousands of years.
Egyptians saw death as an extension of life and prepared for it with great thoroughness. At first only the nobility could afford the preparations for death, but by 2250 B.C. Any man or woman who could afford a proper tomb made every effort and spared no expense to furnish it with the many things essential for the afterlife. Egyptian tombs have revealed many extraordinary artifacts which otherwise would have been destroyed.
The extreme dryness of the desert sands assisted in te survival of these artifacts. The delicate fabric of cartonnage, wood, beads and jewelry which were for the use of the dead have been preserved and today shed light on the ways of the living.
First the body was drained of blood and other fluids. The liver, lungs, intestines and stomach were removed through a small cut on the left side so the body wouldn't be damaged.
Only the heart was left in the body, because the Egyptians believed it was the seat of knowledge. Te embalmers removed the brain by pulling it through the nose with a copper tool. Each of the organs was dried separately and placed in a canopic jar.
Many natural materials were used: myrrh, cedar resin, cinnamon, honey, onions and sawdust were among them. Some were used for their pleasant scent, some as preservatives, and some to fill out the body.
The emptied body was packed in natron, a substance like salt, for 40 days until the body was dark and tough as leather. The embalmers washed the body and stuffed the cavities with linen to fill out the shape. Bees' wax was applied to seal the incisions.
By this time the mummy was not very attractive. The gruesome, dried-up figure was wrapped in linen strips, sometimes as much as 1,200 yards. At least 15 days were spent wrapping the mummy. There was a strict order to follow when wrapping the parts of the body, and there were specific directions on how they were to be bound. Jewelry and good luck charms, called amulets, were often tucked into the wrappings.
Embalming began with the removal of organs that would decay. They were usually put into canopic jars so-called after a city where a god was worshipped in jar-like form.
They were filled by a code linking each stopper-head to an organ: jackal, stomach; baboon, lungs; falcon, intestines; human, liver. The heads invoked Horus's protective sons: Dua-mut-ef, the jackal, Hapy, the baboon, Qebeh-senu-ef, the falcon, and Imsety, the human-headed protector.
The jars often carried inscriptions showing that the various internal organs were placed under the protection of the four sons of Horus. These gods were associated with other deities including Isis, Nephthys, Neith and Selkit.
The viscera were wrapped in linen and placed in the jars. The jars were then often put into large cubical canopic chests divided into four compartments. These chests were usually placed in a niche in the wall of the burial chamber.
When the mummy was fully prepared with its wrappings it was installed in a mummy case called a sarcophagus. Often, there were many layers of cases one larger than the other with a final one containing them all the tomb.
What was used to make a mummy case? Plastic? Tin foil? Lego blocks? You could make a fine case with any of those, but the ancient Egyptians did not have such materials. They had to make their cases from materials they could find in nature, and they wanted them to be sturdy yet beautiful.
The craftsmen who made the mummy case, called the cartonnage, began with strips of linen. They soaked the fabric in resin, so that the thick, sticky strips could be pressed around a form made of mud and straw.
When the resin strips dried, they became solid and hard, much like papier-mache. The dirt and straw were scraped out of the cartonnage form; then the exterior was painted with bright colors and religious symbols.
The mummification rites were conducted by the Embalmers who handed down their secrets from generation to generation through an oral tradition. The preparation of the linen wrapping alone took a great deal of time. Many mummy shrouds when unwrapped would cover the length of five football fields.
Every effort was made so that the deceased would successfully pass through the trials of the underworld and reach the eternal happiness of life after death.
A roll of papyrus containing the Book of the Dead written in hieroglyphics was placed in the tomb or painted on the walls. It was a collection of religious and magical "spells" or texts, something like a handbook for the deceased.
When the deceased successfully rejoined his "ka" and "ba" with his body, they would pass through the gate and reach the Hall of the Two Truths (or Maats).
Once resurrected, the deceased (often shown as the Pharoah) is ushered into the Hall of Judgment by Anubis, the jackal-headed god who prevails over the mummification process. The gods and their many messengers hold "ankhs", the cross-like symbol of life. The deceased is instructed to greet them saying, "I know you. I know your names".
The ancient Egyptians did not consider the afterlife a ghostly existence. They believed that the "ba", the body of habits or the character, and the "ka", the life-force, left the body at death, but needed to return to it throughout eternity.
By rejoining the "ba" and the "ka", ancient Egyptians believed an "akh" or eternal spiritual body would be formed. It is for this reason that ancient Egyptians mummified their dead. For them it was of utmost importance to preserve their bodies from decay.
Egyptians' mummification techniques were quite advanced and are not yet thoroughly understood. The internal organs: the lung, the liver, the stomach and intestines were removed during the mummification process and preserved in canopic jars which were enshrined and placed inside the tomb. The brain was sometimes removed but the heart or "ib" was left intact.