Mummified Meat Left for Egyptian Royals after Death

Mummified Meat Left for Egyptian Royals after Death

Everyone has heard about King Tutankhamun, but how many knew that he was buried with 48 cases of beef and poultry? Those responsible for preparing Tutankhamun’s burial had to make sure, of course, that he had enough food supplies to carry with him on his journey after death.

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has investigated the interesting burial customs of ancient Egypt and has discovered that the meat was mummified through a process that involved treating the meat with elaborate balms to preserve them. This was then placed within tombs to supply the Royal Kings and Queens in the afterlife.

The ‘meat mummies’, as they have been called, are fairly common in ancient Egyptian burials, with the oldest dating back more than 5000 years and the most recent carried out 1600 years ago.

The latest study involved the analysis of four samples of meat mummies dating between 1386 and 948 BC, which had originally been found within tombs of high-status individuals. The meat cuts included a rack of cattle ribs, calf, and goat.

The researchers conducted a chemical analysis of the meat and the bandages used to wrap up the meat. They found that animal fat was used to coat the bandages of the goat and calf, suggesting that it had been smeared on as a preservative. The rack of cattle ribs, however, contained the remains of an elaborate balm made of fat or oil and resin from a Pistacia tree, which was a luxury item in ancient Egypt. It started to be used in human mummification approximately 600 years after it was used in meat mummification.


    What Did the People Put in the Mummies' Tombs in Ancient Egypt?

    Ancient Egyptians were dedicated to the afterlife. This was perhaps because their mortal lives were relatively short very few Egyptians lived to beyond 40 years old. Mummifying their dead was a way to preserve and prepare them for the afterlife. Items that might be useful in the afterlife were also customarily buried with the dead including everyday objects, foods, beverages, jewelry, pets and servants.

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    Mummified Meat Left for Egyptian Royals after Death - History

    T he ancient Egyptians believed in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. This belief was rooted in what they observed each day. The sun fell into the western horizon each evening and was reborn the next morning in the east. New life sprouted from grains planted in the earth, and the moon waxed and waned. As long as order was maintained, everything was highly dependable and life after death could be achieved provided certain conditions were met. For example, the body had to be preserved through mummification and given a properly furnished tomb with everything needed for life in the afterworld.

    M ummification, the preservation of the body, was described in the ancient Pyramid Texts. With the death of Osiris, god of the dead, the cosmos fell into chaos and the tears of the gods turned into materials used to mummify his body. These materials included honey, resins and incense.

    B efore mummification evolved, the corpse was placed in a sleeping fetal position and put into a pit, along with personal items such as clay pots and jewellery. The pit was covered with sand, which absorbed all the water from the body, thus preserving it. Burial pits were eventually lined with mud bricks and roofed over, and the deceased were wrapped in animal skins or interred in pottery, basket ware or wooden coffins. With these "improvements", decay was hastened because the body no longer came in contact with the hot sand. To solve this problem, the internal organs of the deceased were removed and drying agents were used to mummify the body.

    Canopic jars. One of Horus's four sons was represented on the lid of each jar. The human-headed Imsety looked after the liver Hapy, a baboon, guarded the lungs Duamutef, a jackal, protected the stomach and Qebehsenuef, a falcon, cared for the intestines.
    Royal Ontario Museum

    T he practice of mummification began in Egypt in 2400 B.C. and continued into the Graeco-Roman Period. During the Old Kingdom, it was believed that only pharaohs could attain immortality. Around 2000 B.C., attitudes changed, however: everyone could live in the afterworld as long as the body was mummified and the proper elements were placed in the tomb. But since mummification was expensive, only the wealthy were able to take advantage of it. Although mummification was not a strict requirement for resurrection in the next world, it was certainly regarded as a highly desirable means of attaining it. The prayers in the Book of the Dead were intended to help the deceased make a successful transition to the afterlife.

    T he art of mummification was perfected in the Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 B.C.). Around 450 B.C. (Late Period), the Greek historian Herodotus documented the process:

    "As much of the brain as it is possible is extracted through the nostrils with an iron hook, and what the hook cannot reach is dissolved with drugs. Next, the flank is slit open . . . and the entire contents of the abdomen removed. The cavity is then thoroughly cleansed and washed out . . . Then it is filled with pure crushed myrrh, cassia, and all other aromatic substances, except frankincense. [The incision] is sewn up, and then the body is placed in natron, covered entirely for 70 days, never longer. When this period . . . is ended, the body is washed and then wrapped from the head to the feet in linen which has been cut into strips and smeared on the underside with gum which is commonly used by the Egyptians in the place of glue."

    Bob Brier, Egyptian Mummies

    N atron, a disinfectant and desiccating agent, was the main ingredient used in the mummification process. A compound of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (salt and baking soda), natron essentially dried out the corpse. Obtained from dried-up river beds, it was packed around and inside the body in linen bags, and left for 35 to 40 days to draw moisture out of the tissues. By removing the organs and packing the internal cavity with dry natron, the body tissues were preserved. The body was filled with Nile mud, sawdust, lichen and cloth scraps to make it more flexible. Small cooking onions or linen pads were sometimes used to replace the eyes. Beginning in the third dynasty, the internal organs (lungs, stomach, liver and intestines) were removed, washed with palm wine and spices, and stored in four separate canopic jars made of limestone, calcite or clay. Prior to this, the abdominal contents were removed, wrapped and buried in the floor of the tomb. However, the heart was left in the body because it was considered the centre of intelligence.

    1. linen
    2. sawdust
    3. lichen
    4. beeswax
    5. resin
    6. natron
    7. onion
    8. Nile mud
    9. linen pads
    10. frankincense

    T he corpse was then washed, wrapped in linen (as many as 35 layers) and soaked in resins and oils. This gave the skin a blackened appearance resembling pitch. The term "mummification" comes from the Arabic word mummiya, which mean bitumen, a pitch substance that was first used in the preservation process during the Late Period. The family of the deceased supplied the burial linen, which was made from old bed sheets or used clothing.

    I n the Middle Kingdom, it became standard practice to place a mask over the face of the deceased. The majority of these were made of cartonnage (papyrus or linen coated with gesso, a type of plaster), but wood and, in the case of royal mummies, silver and gold, were also used. The most famous mask is Tutankhamun's.

    Mummy mask
    Wood covered with painted gesso
    500-300 B.C.
    Canadian Museum of Civilization XXIV-C-63
    Mummy mask
    Moulded and painted linen
    Royal Ontario Museum 910.15.3

    T he ancient embalmers used very few tools, and once their work was completed, they sometimes left them in or near the tomb. The basic tool kit included a knife to make the abdominal incision, hooked bronze rods to extract brain matter, a wooden adze-like tool to remove internal organs, and a funnel to pour resins into the cranial cavity through the nose.

    T he Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans -- everything from bulls and hawks to ichneumons and snakes. Some have been found in large quantities, while others are rare. Many species were raised in the temples to be sacrificed to the gods. Autopsies on cats show that most had had their necks broken when they were about two years old. Cats were highly valued members of the ancient Egyptian household. They destroyed the rats and mice that would otherwise infest granaries, and assisted in hunting birds and fishing. In the nineteenth century, vast quantities of cat mummies were sent to England to be used as fertilizer.


    The Fall of Zahi Hawass

    Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect developments after Hawass was initially fired. (UPDATED 07/26/2011)

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    It is not as dramatic as the collapse of an ancient Egyptian dynasty, but the abrupt fall of Zahi Hawass is sending ripples around the planet. The archaeologist who has been in charge of Egypt’s antiquities for nearly a decade has been sacked in an overhaul of the country’s cabinet.

    After several days in which his status was unclear—the appointment of a successor was withdrawn, leading to reports that Hawass would return temporarily—he confirmed by e-mail that he was out.

    The antipathy toward Hawass in Egypt may be difficult to grasp in the West, where he is typically found on American television, fearlessly tracking down desert tombs, unearthing mummies and bringing new life to Egypt’s dusty past. But in Egypt he was a target of anger among young protesters who helped depose President Hosni Mubarak in February. Hawass had been accused of corruption, shoddy science and having uncomfortably close connections with the deposed president and first lady⎯all of which he vociferously denied. Many young archaeologists also demanded more jobs and better pay⎯and they complained Hawass had failed to deliver. “He was the Mubarak of antiquities,” said Nora Shalaby, a young Egyptian archaeologist who has been active in the revolution.

    On July 17, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf removed Hawass, 64, as minister of antiquities, arguably the most powerful archaeology job in the world. The ministry is responsible for monuments ranging from the Great Pyramids of Giza to the sunken palaces of ancient Alexandria, along with a staff of more than 30,000, as well as control over all foreign excavations in the country. That gives the position immense prestige in a country whose economy depends heavily on tourists drawn by Egypt’s 5,000-year heritage.

    “All the devils united against me,” Hawass said in an e-mail afterward.

    According to Nora Shalaby, a young Egyptian archaeologist who was active in the revolution, "He [Zahi Hawass] was the Mubarak of antiquities." (Shawn Baldwin) In March, Hawass resigned from his post, saying police and military protection of archaeological sites was inadequate and led to widespread looting in the wake of Egypt's revolution. (Shawn Baldwin) After being abrupty sacked in an overhaul of the country's cabinet recently, Zahi Hawass has been reinstated, but only temporarily. (Maura McCarthy) Opponents of Hawass insist he will soon be out the door, and that his return is purely a holding action. The position Hawass holds is one of immense prestige in a country whose economy depends heavily on tourists. (Associated Press)

    Sharaf named Cairo University engineer Abdel Fatta El Banna to take over but withdrew the appointment after ministry employees protested that El Banna lacked credentials as an archaeologist. On July 20, Hawass told the Egyptian state news agency he had been reinstated, but it was unclear for how long. Six days later, Hawass said in an e-mail that he was leaving to rest and to write.

    Finding a replacement may take time, foreign archaeologists said. In addition, the ministry of antiquities may be downgraded from a cabinet-level agency.

    Mubarak had created the ministry in January as part of an effort to salvage his government it had been a non-cabinet agency called the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which reported to the ministry of culture. The possibility that ministry would be downgraded, reported by the Los Angeles Times, citing a cabinet spokesman, worried foreign archaeologists. “I’m very concerned about the antiquities,” said Sarah Parcak, an Egyptologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. “And these monuments are the lifeblood of the Egyptian economy.”

    Hawass had risen from the professional dead before. Young archaeologists gathered outside his headquarters February 14 to press for more jobs and better pay. He was accused of corruption in several court cases. And in March he resigned from his post, saying that inadequate police and military protection of archaeological sites had led to widespread looting in the wake of Egypt’s revolution. But within a few weeks, Sharaf called Hawass and asked him to return to the job.

    In June, he embarked on a tour to the United States to encourage tourists to return to Egypt—a high priority, given that Egypt’s political upheaval has made foreign visitors wary. Egyptian officials said in interviews last month that Hawass’ ability to persuade foreigners to return was a major reason for keeping him in his position.

    Hawass rose to power in the 1980s, after getting a PhD in archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and being named the chief antiquities inspector at the Giza Plateau, which includes the pyramids. In 2002, he was put in charge of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. He began to call on foreign countries to return iconic antiquities, such as the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and the Nefertiti bust at the Neues Museum in Berlin. At the same time, he made it easier for foreign museums to access Egyptian artifacts for exhibit, which brought in large amounts of money for the Egyptian government. In addition, he halted new digs in areas outside the Nile Delta and oases, where rising water and increased development pose a major threat to the country’s heritage.

    Hawass also began to star in a number of television specials, including Chasing Mummies, a 2010 reality show on the History Channel that was harshly criticized for the cavalier way with which he treated artifacts. In addition, Egyptians complained that there was no way to know what was happening to the money Hawass was reaping from his book tours, lectures, as well as his television appearances.


    MUMMY MYSTERY

    A study carried out by renowned Egyptologist Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at Cairo University, revealed that severe atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries led to the princess' sudden death from a heart attack.

    Hawass told Ahram Online that the ancient Egyptian embalming process had preserved the posture of the princess at the moment of death.

    Writings in the ancient hieratic Egyptian language on the linen wraps of the mummy read: “The royal daughter, the royal sister of Meret Amon.”

    The results of CT scan also indicated that she died in her sixth decade and received a good mummification treatment.

    Hawass said that the results indicated that the mummy suffered from a severe degree of atherosclerosis, which affected many arteries of the body.

    Atherosclerosis is a degenerative disease that progressively affects the arterial wall, leading to a narrowing of the cavity and blockage of the vessel.

    The CT scan showed that she suffered from atherosclerosis of the right and left coronary arteries, neck arteries, abdominal aorta and iliac arteries, as well as the arteries of the lower extremities.

    “We assume that the dead body of ‘the screaming woman’ might not have been discovered until hours later, enough to develop rigor mortis,” Hawass explained.

    “We assume that the embalmers likely mummified the contracted body of the ‘screaming woman’ before it decomposed or relaxed.

    "The embalmers were thus unable to secure the mouth closed or put the contracted body in the state of lying down, as was usual with the other mummies, thus preserving her facial expression and posture at the time of death,” he said.

    The Royal Cachette also contained the 'mummy of the screaming man' which was recently uncovered as that of Pentawere, son of King Ramses III.

    The scientific team of the Egyptian Mummy Project used CT scans and DNA to determine the young royal's identity.

    Pentawere was forced to commit suicide by hanging as a punishment for his involvement in the killing of his father, in what is now known as the Harem Conspiracy.


    Purpose of Making Mummies

    The reason why the ancient Egyptians made mummies was pretty straightforward. They believed that death led a person to the afterlife, where he/she would lead an immortal existence. But, for this afterlife to happen, it was necessary to preserve the body of the deceased, so that the soul could identify the body that it belonged to.

    In simpler words, there could be no afterlife unless the body was kept intact. This is why, the Egyptians came up with the idea of mummifying their dead, so that they could enter the afterlife, and live a happy and a smooth life even there.

    The Egyptians, however, did not set out to discover the technique of mummification. In fact, they happened to accidentally stumble upon the idea of this intended preservation of dead bodies. In the earlier periods, the ancient Egyptians used to bury their deceased under the desert sands. The heat of the desert sand, absorbed all the moisture content from the dead body, owing to which, the bodies became completely dry and were naturally preserved. Many times, the bodies remained so intact that even the skin and the hair did not decay. These bodies, thus, were naturally mummified by the hot climatic conditions.

    With the beginning of the dynastic era in Egypt, it was deemed necessary to have elaborate funeral rituals for royalty. Obviously, the Pharaohs and their families couldn’t just be buried under the desert sand. Their bodies had to be properly put into coffins, along with all the grave goods, before being buried. And, this was precisely where the problem arose. Enclosing the dead bodies into coffins meant that they were completely disconnected from the natural desert conditions. This in turn, meant that the natural mummification of the dead bodies would no longer happen. In other words, the bodies would decay and deteriorate within the coffins. Here was where the trouble lied no dead body, no afterlife!

    To avoid this painful, sorry situation, the ancient Egyptians came up with a technique of deliberate mummification they began to carry out intentional preservation of dead bodies, so that the afterlife could happen. When the entire mummification process was decoded by the ancient Egyptians, it did not remain confined only to humans. Interestingly, animals such as cats, rams, etc., which were, more often than not, considered to be sacred in nature also began to be mummified, either to be buried with the deceased or to be offered to the gods.

    With the passage of time, mummifying the dead, which was earlier limited only to the royalty, began taking place throughout the land. Since the process was expensive, those who could afford it, had their deceased loved ones mummified. Those who could not, always had the option of natural mummification, which was free of cost.


    Egyptian Pharaohs Crowns, Headdresses and Regalia

    When the king sat on his throne wearing all of his symbols of office—the crowns, scepters, and other ceremonial items—the spirit of the great god Horus spoke through him. These symbols of authority included a crook and a flail. The crook was a short stick curved at the top, much like a shepherd’s crook. The flail was a long handle with three strings of beads.

    Crowns and headdresses were mostly made of organic materials and have not survived but we know what they looked like from many pictures and statues. The best known crown is from Tutankhamun’s golden death mask.
    The White Crown represented Upper Egypt, and the Red Crown, Lower Egypt (around the Nile Delta). Sometimes these crowns were worn together and called the Double Crown, and were the symbol of a united Egypt.

    There was also a third crown worn by the kings of the New Kingdom, called the Blue Crown or war helmet.

    This was called the Nemes crown (shown above) and was made of striped cloth. It was tied around the head, covered the neck and shoulders, and was knotted into a tail at the back.

    The brow was decorated with the “uraeus,” a cobra and vulture.

    Officials called “viziers” helped the king govern. The viziers acted as mayors, tax collectors, and judges. Other high officials who served the king included a treasurer and an army commander.


    The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and only surviving wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Built over a 10 to 20-year period, beginning around 2580 BC, it was designed as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh Khufu.

    It was also the first of the three pyramids in the Giza complex, which is also home to the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx. The Great Pyramid remains one of the largest structures ever built and an awe-inspiring testament to the Ancient Egyptians’ architectural ambition and ingenuity.


    EGYPTIAN AFTERLIFEfacts

    To an ancient Egyptian afterlife was a positive thing. Death itself was not the end  – it was considered to be only a short interval between physical life and entering the afterlife, the Duat. During this interval the proper mummification was performed, and you rested, waiting for revivication. The embalmers did their best, and even repaired damages to your body – if you were missing a limb or a body part, an artificial one could be put on its place. Even a toe prosthesis and false teeth have been found. It was considered important that you entered the Egyptian afterlife, Iaru, or the Field of Reeds, with a complete body.

    Mummification was considered to be necessary for entering the Egyptian afterlife – the mummy was the home for the ka and ba – or aspects of the soul of the deceased – without which the deceased would not be guaranteed an afterlife. Still, it was well known that tombs were looted and mummies destroyed in search of valuable amulets and jewellery, and so a statue of the deceased could also function as the home for the  ka and ba.

    And in case the statues were destroyed also, keeping the name of the deceased alive guaranteed the deceased’s continued existence in the afterlife, and so it was painted on the tomb walls.

    If your name was completely erased, however, either by accident or deliberately,  you would die again in the afterlife. So you could say that even if the mummies were important to the ancient Egyptians, all that was really necessary for you to survive in the Egyptian afterlife was the memory of your name.  (Which gave hope to the very poor who had no means to pay for the mummification.)

    Once the mummification was finished, and the deceased was carefully wrapped in linen, it was time to revive the senses of the deceased one so they could enter the afterlife. For this the Opening of the Mouth –ceremony was performed, usually by special priests. The idea of the ceremony was to bring back the senses of seeing, hearing, touch – basically all the senses of a living person. To get back the ability to speak was especially important, as the deceased would need it at the Weighing of the Heart –ceremony, where s/he needed to speak to the gods and assure them that his/her life had been free of sin.

    The eldest son of the family was considered to be responsible for the funeral arrangements of the parents. And actually it was seen as a  prerequsite for inheriting your parents. Your inheritance was not questioned if it was known you had performed the last rites to your parents.

    After the ceremony of Opening the Mouth it was believed that the ba, or inner self of the deceased, moved freely about. It could ascend to the sky and join Ra in his solar barque. It could also go to the world of the living. At night ba rejoined the mummified corpse at the tomb. The ba is shown in ancient Egyptian art often as a bird with a human head.

    ꂯter the Opening of the Mouth the family and friends of the deceased had a last feast with the mummy present, and after this the deceased was taken to his/her tomb. It was now believed that the perilous journey to the Egyptian afterlife began. The dead person had to pass through a series of gates, earch guarded by a demon. The way to pass them was to name the demons, and recite proper spells. This was helped by placing the Book of the Dead in the tomb – all the necessary spells were written there (of course the very poor could not afford this, as the book could cost a year’s worth of income)

    Once you made your way past the demons you entered the Hall of the Two Truths. Here you faced 42 gods you had to convince you had lived a good life. At first the deceased used to say they had done good deeds, but later in history this turned into “negative confession” which meant you told the gods what you had NOT done. “I have not done (and then you would state an act that was considered to be a sin)”.  Like “I have not stolen”.

    Once this protestation of innocence was over, your heart was weighed on a scale against the feather of Maat – Maat being the proper way of things, or justice if you will. (Maat was a goddess who was personified as a sitting woman with a feather on her head). If your heart was heavy with evil deeds it weighed more than the feather. If this happened, a monster called Ammit – the Devourer of Souls - ate your heart, and you were undone as if you never existed. No afterlife for you. (There has not been found any reference of someone being condemned to this fate, so it seems the Egyptians trusted they would get in to the blessed afterlife)

    The god of wisdom, Thoth, wrote down the verdict of the weighing of the heart. If (when) you were allowed to proceed, you were taken to the god of the Egyptian afterlife, Osiris. You could then join your loved ones and live eternally with them in Duat.

    Supporting the egyptian afterlife from the world of the living

    Still all was not done yet. The Egyptians believed that you needed sustenance in the afterlife as well, and this was provided through burial goods and tomb paintings. Scenes of feasts, tables laden with food were important. They were believed to magically turn into real food in the afterlife.

    Also what is called the “offering formula”, hotep di nesu, was written on the walls of the tomb, ਊnd also outside the tomb for passers-by to read.

    Reading it aloud would give the deceased bread, beer, fowl, meat, linen and all things good and pure in the afterlife.

    Still, as only about 1% of the population was literate, perhaps the paintings of food and actual food offerings to the deceased were considered to be a more reliable way to provide for the afterlife.  You couldn’t really expect a literate person to pass your tomb by very often. The well-to-do could hire a mortuary priest who would take care of reading the offering formula every now and again, as well as make food offerings. Pharaohs had veritable cults, where several generations took care of the offerings to the deceased king.

    11th dynasty, from Deir el-Bahri.07.230.1a, b. Metropolitan Museum of Art

     In the tomb paintings the deceased was shown in a favorable light – as young and healthy and prosperous as possible. Dressing in your finest was important. Also as life was thought to continue the same as in physical life, hunting, building, fishing and all sorts of everyday activities were shown in the paintings.  These paintings had deeper symbolical meanings too: hunting and fowling represented controlling the chaos of the universe – animals were seen to represent this chaos. 򠯯ore New Kingdom the paintings represented the physical life of the deceased, and during New Kingdom the paintings began to show the ideal life in the Duat with gods.

    Still, it was not always believed that everyone had an afterlife. In the early Old Kingdom it was believed only the king had a ba and could ascend to the heavens and travel with the sun god Ra in his barque. The subsidiary burials of the early kings may testify to the belief that if you were buried with your king, you would have an afterlife serving him. The pharaoh’s afterlife was associated with the norhern, imperishable stars at first (these stars were around the Pole star of the time, which was Thuban in the constellation of Draco, and these stars did not set during the night). Later, when worship of the sun became more important, the pharaoh was identified with the rising sun. The orientation of the temples changed too as a result towards east.

    Later on the chance of an afterlife spread to lower classes as well. But still, all along, it was believed your social status remained the same even in the afterlife. Work was required but you could skip this by having shabtis in your tomb. Many tombs had model boats in them, which reflected the idea that there was a river in the afterlife as well, and boats were necessary for transport.

    In the course of history the deceased were believed to become stars, to live in the Fields of Iaru, to become united with the god Osiris, or travel in the barque of the sun god Ra – or all of these.

    Dying abroad was a horror to an Egyptian – you could not expect an Egyptian afterlife if you were buried abroad, and so there are stories of sons fetching the bodies of their deceased fathers so they could be buried in Kemet. 

    The Amarna period also threatened the idea of Egyptian afterlife. During this brief period it was stated that the dead slept in their tombs at night, and did not go to heaven. Instead they flocked to the offering tables that were placed in the great temples of the Aten in the city of Aketaten. Archaeological finds in the city prove that people did not abandon their own beliefs and worshiped old gods in the privacy of their own homes. No doubt they kept their old afterllife beliefs as well.

    People very much believed their dead family members were alive in the Egyptian afterlife (or Duat), and had an interest in the lives of the ones still alive on earth. Sometimes their attentions were not considered friendly. Letters were written to the afterlife, often in bowls that were left at the tomb. The help of the deceased was asked, and if something had gone wrong in the lives of those left behind, explanations were demanded and the deceased was assured the living had done nothing to hurt them.

    The beliefs of the ancients Egyptians in an afterlife, and the thousands of years their beliefs developed have supplied us with an endlessly fascinating field of research.


    How were ancient Egyptians mummified?

    Click to enlarge image Toggle Caption

    The most complicated mummification process

    The technique used on royals and high officials from the New Kingdom until the start of the Late Period, about 1550 to 664 BCE, is considered the best and most complicated mummification process.

    Preserving the organs

    The first step in this technique involved the removal and preservation of most of the internal organs. The lungs, stomach, liver and intestines were separately embalmed and placed into canopic jars. These jars were often decorated with one of the four animal-headed sons of the god Horus, with each son protecting a particular organ. Preservation of these organs was important as they allowed the dead person to breathe and eat in the afterlife. However, usually only the wealthy could afford to have their organs embalmed and stored in this way. After about 1000 BCE the practice changed. The internal organs were then generally wrapped and put back into the body or bound with it, or put in boxes rather than being placed in jars. Canopic jars were still placed in the person's tomb but they were solid or empty and served a symbolic purpose.

    Preserving the body

    The heart, representing the centre of all knowledge and emotions, was usually left untouched inside the body while the brain was often thrown away. The body was then treated with natron (a carbonate salt collected from the edges of desert lakes) which acted as a drying agent, absorbing water from the body so as to prevent further decay. After 40 days, the natron was removed from the skin and the body cavities were filled with linen, natron pouches, herbs, sawdust, sand or chopped straw. The skin and first few layers of linen bandages were then covered with a resinous coating. The rest of the body was then wrapped, often with the inclusion of amulets and with a mask placed over head of the mummy. The whole process lasted about 70 days.

    Those that couldn’t afford embalming generally had their bodies ‘preserved’ through drying in hot desert sands or by covering them with resin.

    Bringing the dead to life in the 21st century

    Scientific and technological advances mean that it’s now possible to gain enormous amounts of information from mummies without the usual physical and ethical problems associated with studying human remains. Mummies can be examined using techniques such as CT scans, MRIs and x-rays or an endoscopic camera can be inserted through a small opening to see directly inside. In some cases, soft tissue can be removed from the mummy without causing much damage. The information recovered is bringing the dead to life in ways never thought possible. Details include the gender, age and health of a person, how they were mummified and whether objects were included beneath the wrapping. Also, if soft tissue can be removed, biological information on DNA, genes and diseases can be revealed.