||Life in Ancient Egypt
Funerary Customs: Mummification
The process of
mummification, the form of embalming practiced by the ancient Egyptians,
changed over time from the Old Kingdom (ca. 2750-2250 B.C.), when
it was available only to kings, to the New Kingdom (ca. 1539-1070 B.C.),
when it was available to everyone. The level of mummification depended
on what one could afford. The most fully developed form involved four
1. All of the
internal organs, except the heart, were removed. Since the organs were
the first parts of the body to decompose but were necessary in the afterlife,
they were mummified and put in canopic jars that were placed in the tomb
at the time of burial. The heart was believed to be the seat of intelligence
and emotion and was, therefore, left in the body. The brain, on the other
hand, was regarded as having no significant value and, beginning in the
New Kingdom, was removed through the nose and discarded.
2. The body
was packed and covered with natron, a salty drying agent, and left to
dry out for forty to fifty days. By this time all the body's liquid had
been absorbed and only the hair, skin, and bones were left.
3. The body
cavity was stuffed with resin, sawdust, or linen and shaped to restore
the deceased's form and features.
4. The body
was then tightly wrapped in many layers of linen with numerous good luck
charms, or amulets, wrapped between the layers. The most important amulet
was the scarab beetle, which was placed over the heart. Jewelry was also
placed among the bandages. At each stage of wrapping, a priest recited
spells and prayers. This whole procedure could take as long as fifteen
days. After the wrapping was complete, the body was put into a shroud.
The entire mummification process took about seventy days.