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When you think of Ancient Egypt a few things spring to mind…pyramids, hieroglyphs, Pharaoh’s and Gods…and or course, MUMMIES!
Mummies are the embalmed bodies of Egyptians who died, and they were a very important part of Ancient Egyptian culture. There’s so much information out there about mummies, it’s easy to get WRAPPED up in it all (Getit? Wrapped..?), so we’ve put together a list of what we think are some of the coolest and most interesting facts about Mummies; how they were mummified, how they were prepared and why they mattered.
1. Mummification was the Ancient Egyptian’s way of embalming.
Embalming is the process of preserving a dead body so that it doesn’t decay like it would if you left it alone. These days we can use chemical injections to do this, but thousands of years ago the Egyptians used a process called mummification which used ancient, natural methods of preservation. These methods were so brilliant that there are still many surviving mummies today!
2. The mummification process probably started around 2600 BCE.
Egypt is a very hot and dry country which doesn’t get much rain. Because of this, the earliest preserved bodies archaeologists have found were probably preserved by accident! Dry sand and air around the shallow pits dug for bodies did much to preserve bodies naturally.
However, we believe that Egyptians started mummifying people deliberately around the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties, some time around 2600 BCE (BCE means Before Common Era, aka before our modern time measurements 0-2023 CE). The practice was so important that it lasted for over 2000 years and was even continued into the Roman era!
3. Preserving bodies was part of the Ancient Egyptians religious beliefs.
The Ancient Egyptians were a religious society and the way they treated their dead was an important part of their beliefs. The embalmers were special priests who needed to not only know the proper prayers and practices to be followed at any time, but also a detailed knowledge of human anatomy.
Preserving and burying a body was an important religious ritual and even after a body had been mummified, priests would perform ceremonies on the body and at the entrance of the tomb, after which the mummy was placed in their coffin which was in the burial chamber, and the entrance was sealed up.
4. Ancient Egyptians believed preserving a body would stop the person’s spirit from being lost.
The Ancient Egyptian idea of a spirit or soul consisted of three parts, the ka, ba and akh. The ka was the “double” of the person and stayed with the body after death, thus needing various offerings buried within the tomb. The ba was the “soul” and had the freedom to come and go from the tomb. The akh was the “spirit” and that was the part that made the journey to the underworld, joining the afterlife.
All three of these aspects of a person were important to Ancient Egyptians, and so it was important to do everything right to protect the dead as they entered the next life.
5. The process of mummification took 70 days!
Different religions and societies have separate timelines for the process of mourning and burying their dead, but there aren’t many that take 70 days! This might seem like a lot, but when you learn about the many steps the Egyptians took during mummification, it starts to make a bit more sense.
The first step was washing the body and removing all the internal organs except for the heart. These organs were preserved separately in canopic jars which were buried with the mummy. Later Egyptian societies would put organs back in the body, but the jars still continued to be part of the burial rituals.
One of the most important parts of mummification involved removing all of the moisture from the body. They did this with a type of salt called natron and in packets placed inside it, a bit like the silica gel you might find in packets of dried fruit these days!
The wrapping itself was done carefully and religiously, using hundreds of metres of linen. Linen was also used to fill the inside of the body to make it more lifelike and often they added fake eyes. During the wrapping, prayers were spoken and amulets were sometimes placed between layers of linen. Warm resin was used at various stages to coat the body and keep the material even more secure.
6. Mummies were buried with lots of special objects surrounding them.
Mummies were often buried with offerings and belongings that Egyptians believed were important for the afterlife. Pharaohs and rich noble people were buried with all sorts of brilliant gold and jewellery, but there was much more to add than just bling!
Ancient Egyptians believed that the path to the afterlife was long and they wanted to give the dead the best chance of reaching the underworld, so they would bury them with food, water and sometimes even wine!
If you were very important you might also be buried with beautiful clothes to enter the afterlife in style, and even a boat to help you sail to the afterlife! This journey was also dangerous, and so weapons were sometimes included.
It’s also believed by some that Egyptians left curses for anyone who disturbed their resting places, and that has provided Hollywood with an entire genre of fantasy movies! (Think Indiana Jones, or The Mummy franchises).
7. Mummification was expensive so not everyone got the same deal.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a long process like mummification cost a lot of money, especially when you add costs of a sarcophagus (their version of a coffin), a swanky tomb, and offerings for the afterlife. This meant that the best embalming was reserved for the very rich and the culturally significant.
However, as we mentioned above, preserving the body of a loved one was an important part of helping them reach the afterlife, so most people did their best and paid for what they could. In the hundreds of years that Egyptians were practicing mummification, it’s thought that around 70 million people were made into mummies. That’s more mummies than the entire current population of the UK!
8. For important people, their tombs were usually started years before they died.
If you were a Pharaoh (essentially an Egyptian King or Queen) or an important person, your tomb would be incredibly elaborate and cost a lot of money to build! Being thousands of years before the industrial revolution, they didn’t have cars or high-tech machines to help them, so it would all have to be done using humans and animals. This meant that the most elaborate tombs would take an awfully long time to build. The oldest kind of Egyptian tomb is called the mastaba which had a large room for ceremonies and a smaller one for statues, but as society progressed, royalty started to be buried in pyramids. Yes…those pyramids. Those HUGE pyramids! These could take 15-30 years to build, and so Pharoah’s would plan their tombs literally decades in advance!
9. One of the most famous mummies discovered is the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
One of the most famous mummies of all time is the mummy of a Pharaoh called Tutankhamun whose tomb was discovered in 1922. He is famous for a few reasons, one of which is that he was a King and thus very important. He was known as the boy king because he ruled from the age of 9 and it is thought he died around the age of 18.
One of the reasons he is so famous in the modern world is because whilst most tombs had been looted and destroyed before archaeologists found them, King Tut’s tomb was found entirely intact, including all the wonderful treasures and offerings he was buried with. It’s this discovery that helped us to understand so much more about the process of mummification and the importance of different aspects of Ancient Egyptian burial processes.
Having such a complete and well preserved Mummy has also allowed scientists to use DNA research to look into not only his ancestry but also his cause of death. Isn’t it AMAZING that even thousands of years later, we can learn so much from the tomb of one young Pharaoh!?
10. Ancient Egyptians sometimes mummified their pets!
Anyone who has pets will tell you their fur babies are a part of the family, and that love for our animal pals is not new! Many animals were mummified in the same way as their human counterparts, but they weren’t just pets. Many animals were considered holy incarnations of Gods, and so millions of mummified cats, birds, bulls and loads of other animals were buried at temples in their honour.
We don’t know as much about how or why animals were mummified, but this is something scientists are starting to look into a lot more, so we’re sure there are many more secrets to uncover that lie within the mummies of our furry friends!
That’s a Wrap!
When you think about just how old Ancient Egyptian mummies are, it is truly amazing that we not only have so many 3000 year-old mummies, but that some of them were even found with preserved hair and skin
It’s not only exciting that we can learn so much about this ancient society using the amazing artefacts that they left behind, but as science progresses we’re sure to learn even more about who these people were, how they were mummified and what all of the aspects of their burial meant.
It truly is amazing how they did all of this without modern chemicals or electric powered machines!
Egyptian Mummy FAQs
What are 2 interesting facts about mummies?
Mummies have been discovered with intricate dental surgery, including the use of gold thread to secure loose teeth. Secondly, not all mummies were human. Animals, such as cats, dogs, crocodiles, and birds, were also mummified in ancient Egypt, often as offerings to the gods or as beloved pets buried alongside their owners.
How long did mummies last?
Mummies can last for thousands of years due to the preservation techniques used in the mummification process, which slow down the decomposition of the body.
Who is the most famous mummy?
The most famous mummy is probably King Tutankhamun (Tut), an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled in the 14th century BCE. His tomb was discovered in 1922, largely intact and well-preserved.
Why are mummies important?
Mummies are important because they provide insight into the culture, burial practices, and technology of ancient civilizations, as well as valuable information about diseases and health during those times.
Why did people drink mummies?
People in the past drank ground-up mummies, known as “mummy powder,” due to the belief that it had medicinal properties and could cure various ailments. This practice, known as “corpse medicine,” was based on the misconception that the preservation process imbued the mummy with healing powers.