Hundreds of yards of linen were used to carefully wrap a mummy. The
linen didn't just come in the well-known rolls of bandages. Mummies
were also wrapped in shrouds, large sheets of material that were thrown
over the body like a cape. Each shroud had to be long enough to be knotted
at the top behind the mummy's head, and also underneath the feet. As
many as 20 alternating layers of bandages have been counted on one mummy.
(Murnane 67) The exact arrangements of the rolls and shrouds of linen
varied a lot from period to period, and can be helpful in dating mummies.
First the head and neck are wrapped with strips of fine linen. Then
the fingers and the toes are individually wrapped. The arms and legs
are wrapped separately. Between the layers of wrapping, the embalmers
place amulets to protect the body in its journey through the underworld
a priest reads spells out loud while the mummy is being wrapped. These
spells will help ward off evil spirits and help the deceased make the
journey to the afterlife. The arms and legs are tied together. A papyrus
scroll with spells from the Book of the Dead is placed between the wrapped
hands. More linen strips are wrapped around the body. At every layer,
the bandages are painted with liquid resin that helps to glue the bandages
together. A cloth is wrapped around the body and a picture of the god
Osiris is painted on its surface. Finally, a large cloth is wrapped
around the entire mummy. It is attached with strips of linen that run
from the top to the bottom of the mummy, and around its middle.
Numbers had many meanings to the ancient Egyptians. Traditionally, mummies
were wrapped in 7 shrouds, as this was the magical number. The outer
shroud was often painted with magical writings and spells to protect
the mummy within. A board of painted wood is placed on top of the mummy
before the mummy is lowered into its coffin. The first coffin is then
put inside a second coffin.
The funeral is held for the deceased and his family mourns his death.
Next came the very important Opening of the Mouth ceremony, based on
the Osiris legend. A priest wearing a jackal-headed mask representing
the god Anubis held the mummy's coffin upright while another priest
touched the mouth of the mummy with ritual instruments. (Hayes 13) The
ancient Egyptians believed that their god of the dead, Anubis, was the
inventor of embalming.
The Egyptians believed that from a person's death until the performance
of this ceremony the body could not hear, see, or speak. Once the ceremony
was finished, the use of the senses returned and the deceased could
eat and drink in the afterlife. After the ceremony an offering of food,
ointment, and clothing was given to the deceased. (26) This completed,
the mourners enjoyed a large funerary banquet, with entertainment in
praise of the dead provided by musicians and dancers. While the banquet
was going on, the deceased was placed inside the tomb, and the footsteps
of those who had been inside were swept away. Now the deceased's soul
could return to the body.
Finally, the body and its coffins are placed inside a large stone sarcophagus
in the tomb.
Furniture, clothing, valuable objects, food and drink are arranged in
the tomb for the deceased. (27-55) Now his body is ready for its journey
through the underworld. There his heart will be judged by his good deeds
on earth. If his heart is found to be pure he will be sent to live for
all eternity in the beautiful 'Field of Reeds'.
A beautiful mask did more than protect the mummy's face- it could also
act as a substitute head if the mummy's real head was broken or damaged.
When the dead person's spirit returned to the tomb, it could recognize
the mummy by its mask. One of the most famous works of art in the world
is the stunning gold work on the mask of Tutankhamen's mummy. (Reeve
2) The masks of the pharaohs were mainly built with gold along with
some inlaid decoration. The Egyptians believed that gold was connected
with the sun god, with whom the mummy hoped to be united, had flesh
of pure gold. Less important mummies wore masks of catronnage- a sort
of paper of linen or scrap papyrus gummed together with plaster or resin.
The wet catronnage was molded to fit the mummy. Once it had hardened
it could then be gilded or painted in rich colors. Although wood was
used at times in making mummy cases, it was rarely found and had to
be imported from other places. An excellent alternative was catronnage,
which was cheap, light and easy to shape and paint. (Rohl 66)
Mummy cases were New Kingdom boxes that fit between the mummy and the
coffin. They were made in two styles: a box and lid like a coffin, or
a box with doors in the back that laced closed. Mummy cases were made
of cartonnage, a lightweight material made from waste papyrus and linen
covered in plaster. The cartonnage material allowed the case to be molded
closely to the outline of the mummy; it was also a wonderful material
to paint on. Mummy cases were elaborately decorated with a variety of
Depending on the period and the wealth of the individual, it was fashionable
to be buried in one, two, or three different coffins. Multiple coffins
would be nested one inside the other. By the Middle Kingdom the coffin
was considered a miniature tomb, and it was decorated with many of the
items that had formerly adorned the walls of the tomb. The goddesses
Isis and Nephthys were painted as guards at the head and foot of the
coffin. The inside floor of the coffin was painted with Nut, Isis, Osiris,
or the Djed pillar (Osiris's backbone). The sides bore the four sons
of Horus and other deities. (50-54)
A Sarcophagus is a coffin made of stone. Sarcophagus means "flesh
eater" in Greek, for the Greeks believed that the stone would dissolve
a dead body. Sarcophagi were expensive, and only pharaohs, noblemen,
or important officials were buried in them. They were also incredibly
heavy and had to be positioned in the tombs by gangs of workers. During
the funeral, the mummy was carried into the tomb and sealed in the sarcophagus.
The first sarcophagi were plain rectangular boxes, but the later ones
were rounded to look like the mummy inside them. (Erman 66)