courtesy and © 1992 Steven Beikirch,
|Anubis was the god of mummification. He
had a human body and the head of a jackal. Anubis was the son of Nephthys. His job was to
prepare the bodies of the dead to be received by Osiris.
This photo of Anubis was taken in the Temple of Hatshepsut at
The first Egyptian mummies were bodies
of people who had been buried in the desert. Their bodies dried out and remained whole.
Later rich Egyptians were mummified after death. This procedure was a way of preserving
the body for the afterlife. The procedure involved cleaning the body inside and out.
Embalmers of the Old Kingdom hadn't yet learned how
to preserve the flesh. In the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom embalmers began experimenting
with natron. This is a compound of salts that is a close chemical composition of
bicarbonate of soda. When the body was packed in natron crystals, the moisture was drawn
out of the skin tissue. The consistent use of natron did not occur until the 12th Dynasty
of the Middle Kingdom.
During the Fourth Dynasty Queen Hetepheres was the
first royal Egyptian believed to have her organs dried out and preserved. First the body
was cut open and the organs were removed. All the major organs were taken out except the
heart and the kidneys. The brain was removed through the nose with an iron hook. In her
tomb a chest with compartments was found. In the chest were the remains of Queen
Hetepheres's stomach and other organs. In later years the liver, lungs, stomach, and
intestines were placed in canopic jars. The organs were carefully removed from the body
and dried with natron. The brain was not considered an important organ and was not
preserved. Egyptians believed thoughts and reason came from the heart.
King Tut's Alabaster
Canopic Jar Lids
courtesy and ©1996 Richard Deurer, Ancient Gallery Directory
Used with permission.
|The organs were placed in separate jars
called canopic jars. During the Middle Kingdom the four canopic jars were topped with
carvings of a human head. During the New Kingdom the canopic jars each had a different
These were made in the likeness of
Horus's four sons. The dog headed jar, Duamutef, held the stomach. The human,
Imseti, jar held the liver. The hawk headed, Qebsenuef, held the intestines.
The baboon, Hapi, held the lungs.
Next the body was covered with a salt substance
called natron for 40 days so it would dry out. Natron is mostly made up of sodium
carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.
The drying out procedure was followed with rinsing
the body, then covering it with oil. Next the body was wrapped in linen. The body was laid
flat with the hands stretched out beside the body. Fine linen was wrapped around the body.
Within the body wrappings, embalmers placed sacred amulets bearing spells and incantations
that were thought to help the soul speed into the next world. Next plaster covered the
linen wrapping. The plaster was carefully painted. Sometimes the toes and fingers were
individually wrapped. During the Middle Kingdom embalmers experimented with various
improved methods of preserving the body. Coating the wrappings with resin made from the
sap of various conifers was one improvement. The name of the dead person was marked on the
ends of the linen bandages.
By the Twenty-first Dynasty the mummy was inserted
with materials between the skin and muscle layer. Sawdust, ashes, mud, sand, and linen
were used to give the mummy a lifelike appearance. The body was then placed in a coffin
called a sarcophagus. It was decorated with the image of the body inside. During the
Middle Kingdom the first painted cartonnage masks were used. These gave the mummy a more
life like appearance.
The complete preparation time took approximately 70
days to complete. Mummification preserved the body so that the dead person's
soul could recognize its body when the soul returned to the tomb. Egyptians believed
the soul called Ka would enter the mummified body.
When the soul returned the dead person would need
food and earthly objects. This is why the body was buried with food and items that were
needed to live an earthly life. These items included plates, combs, bowls, silverware, and
cups. On the walls of their burial chambers pictures of servants were painted. The reason
for this was the servants would be there to serve the person being buried in their next
The Egyptians did not believe in heaven or hell. They
had priest to keep people on their good behavior. The priest performed ceremonies and
festivals such as funerals.
In the Old Kingdom only royalty or nobility were
mummified. During the Middle Kingdom, mummification began to spread to the upper middle
class. During the 18th and 19th Dynasties of the New Kingdom more and more people could
afford to be embalmed. Both royal and non-royal mummies were prepared. The only difference
in the two were the way the hands were positioned. Royal males were positioned with their
hands placed flat on the chest in the "classic mummy pose".